The new Texas Women's Health Program is really going to be special. And by "special," we mean terrible. But as the Texas Tribune reports , state officials have made one tiny concession in response to complaints from women's advocacy and medical groups: Doctors will now be allowed to discuss the existence of abortion with their patients.
Quick recap: A fight between Governor Rick Perry's administration and the feds over abortion is bringing the federal Medicaid Women's Health Program to a close in Texas. Meanwhile, state officials have started outlining what their replacement program, the TWHP, will look like. (Although it's still not clear how we'll pay for it; the original plan was to use Medicaid expansion money, which Perry has loudly rejected.)
Texas was certain to ban "abortion affiliates" -- by which they mean Planned Parenthood -- from the TWHP. What's more, outgoing Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs also wanted to ban TWHP doctors from even talking about abortion with their patients.
The abortion affiliate ban has been officially put into place. The newly released rules for the TWHP say that overall the program "will favor childbirth and family planning services that do not include elective abortion or the promotion of elective abortion." You can see this new rule in the Texas Register, where these types of state policy changes are recorded. The introduction to the new TWHP rules also pledges to "avoid the direct or indirect use of state funds to promote or support elective abortion."
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Under these rules, abortions are not considered to be "elective" when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, when it endangers a woman's life or when the fetus has a severe abnormality that is "incompatible with life outside the womb." TWHP doctors will presumably be allowed to perform abortions under those circumstances.
New Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek said Thursday that the proposed rule banning physicians from talking about abortion will not be put into place after all.
"What we wanted was to allow for one-on-one, private, non-directive counseling between a physician and her patient," Janek said, according to the Tribune. He acknowledged that a rule silencing doctors was probably "a bit of a gag rule," which is why the Texas Medical Association strongly opposed it.
The final wording says TWHP doctors can't call abortion providers on behalf of their patients, but can provide their names and contact information. Doctors who are in private practice with abortion providers, but don't perform them themselves, will also be allowed into the program. The new rules go into effect November 1.