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Texas Medical Board to give doctors guidance on the state's 3 abortion bans

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Texas, abortion is illegal except in medical emergencies, but the state law does not spell out what qualifies as an emergency. The Texas Medical Board could offer some clarity. Here's Olivia Aldridge from member station KUT.

OLIVIA ALDRIDGE, BYLINE: Back in December, a woman named Kate Cox sued the state of Texas for the right to have an emergency abortion. She wanted the courts to tell her explicitly that her nonviable pregnancy qualified under an exception that allows abortions when a woman's life or a major bodily function is at risk. The Texas Supreme Court said no, that it fell to physicians to use their reasonable medical judgment when deciding if an emergency abortion is warranted. Doctors risk 99 years in prison, hefty fines and the loss of their medical license if they get it wrong. But the Supreme Court said there was a state agency who could clear up confusion about the exception - the Texas Medical Board.

Amy Bresnen is an attorney and lobbyist in Austin. She and her husband, Steve, also an attorney, filed a petition to the medical board in January asking them to start the formal process to make rules to explain the medical exception. Bresnan said it was the Supreme Court's comments that motivated them to take this step.

AMY BRESNEN: I have personally never seen a Texas Supreme Court opinion give that many breadcrumbs to the executive branch of government.

ALDRIDGE: The Bresnens also proposed a rule that the agency could consider. It included a list of specific conditions that could be considered life threatening. Some physicians and reproductive health advocates have said a list like this isn't all encompassing and would result in some women falling through the cracks. But Steve Bresnen said it's meant to be a starting point.

STEVE BRESNEN: Pregnant Texas females are at zero right now, and physicians are at zero with respect to these exceptions, so we want to do better than zero.

ALDRIDGE: The medical board told the Bresnens this week it would begin the process to develop formal rules at a meeting on March 22. For NPR News, I'm Olivia Aldridge in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Olivia Aldridge

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