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Texas offers new guidance on exceptions to state's abortion ban

Texas Medical Board adopts new guidelines on abortion exceptions
Texas Medical Board adopts new guidelines on abortion exceptions 00:34

The Texas Medical Board revised its abortion ban guidance, expanding the definition of dangerous pregnancies while specifying that a terminated pregnancy must occur in the uterus to be considered an abortion.

The guidance, announced this Friday, clarifies some aspects of the abortion ban that critics say puts patients in danger and gives doctors more power to interpret when a pregnancy can legally be terminated. 

One of the changes stipulates that terminating an ectopic pregnancy should not be considered an abortion. An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube, which can be dangerous for the mother.

In 2022, shortly after the Texas abortion ban took effect, at least one hospital in Central Texas declined to terminate an ectopic pregnancy until it ruptured for fear of being penalized. Ruptured ectopic pregnancies are life-threatening situations and require immediate care; the new rule enacted by the TMB would preclude that possibility.

Another change clarifies that the risk to a pregnant woman's life or major bodily function does not need to be immediate in order for an abortion to be allowed under the TMB's guidelines.

The law allows an abortion under a medical or life-threatening exception and it is one of the only exceptions in Texas for abortions. Emergency medical exceptions to the state's abortion ban are very rare.

Since TMB's meeting in March, when they discussed reviewing the rules and clarifying language, they received hundreds of comments from citizens, physicians, professional associations and private organizations.

"The Board acknowledges and respects that this rule may not answer the concerns and questions that arise in every single situation," TMB President Dr. Sherif Zaafran said. "The reality is that the Board can only act where it has the authority to provide rules within the confines of the law. However, we do feel that the adopted rules provide physicians with valuable guidance on how they can successfully navigate any complaints the agency may receive related to abortion care they may provide."

The discussion began after North Texas mother Kate Cox made national headlines when she asked for an abortion after she said her doctors told her it was medically necessary. She ended up leaving the state to get an abortion.

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