Texas Dept. of Health Goes Big Brother: Extrajudicial and Invasive Collection of Info on Women and Doctors to Begin in 2013

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Texas Dept. of Health Goes Big Brother: Extrajudicial and Invasive Collection of Info on Women and Doctors to Begin in 2013

Andrea Grimes

Texas will begin gathering new and more invasive information about abortion-seeking people and abortion-providing doctors in 2013, thanks to new reporting requirements enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services, developed at the request of an anti-choice Tea Party lawmaker.

See all of our exclusive coverage of Rep. Bill Zedler here.

In 2013, the state of Texas will begin gathering new and more invasive information on women seeking and doctors providing safe abortion care thanks to new reporting requirements developed extrajudicially at the insistence of an anti-choice Tea Party lawmaker and now being implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Representative Bill Zedler tried, but failed, to get new reporting requirements enacted by law in the 2011 legislative session, so he asked the Health and Human Services Commission to do it for him; now, after months of public hearings and input from doctors and clinicians decrying the new rules, he’s succeeded.

Zedler originally wanted to go full-Big Brother on the subject of abortion, compiling a dream list of information (including the age of the “father” and a check-off list of Zedler-imagined reasons for termination, such as the favorite anti-choice scare story that “the woman does not prefer the gender of the unborn child,”) that he intended to collect about patients and doctors. The reporting data has been scaled back somewhat in the final, adopted version of the new rules, which will take effect on December 31, 2012.

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Changes made to the adopted draft include deletion of a question about the woman’s level of education and an addition giving doctors 30 rather than 20 days to report abortion “complications.” However, that term is never defined in the statute despite repeatedly-voiced concerns from doctors and health providers that such vagueness could be used against doctors who failed to report “complications” to DSHS’s satisfaction.

DSHS also added a reporting requirement that didn’t exist in the original draft language: that doctors report “the type of anesthesia, if any, used in the procedure: intravenous sedation or general anesthesia.” This addition is particularly timely in light of Governor Rick Perry’s sudden new interest in the subject of fetal pain, which he’s using as a cover for his ultimate goal of banning all abortions.

Rewire originally broke the story of Zedler’s back-door efforts to get his personal curiosity about abortion-seeking women made into law in April, when Texas health officials tried to quietly call a meeting of abortion provider stakeholders, the purpose of which was to address “some amendments the department has included that specifically relate to a request by Representative Zedler,” in the provider regulation rules, according to DSHS Health Care Quality Section Director Renee Clack.

The DSHS communications arm later said that Clack “misspoke” with her name-drop of Zedler and that instead, the rules were being considered as the result of “a general discussion among state leadership that resulted in us agreeing to look into it once it was clear the Rep. Zedler amendment would not be added to SB7,” which was 2011’s sweeping anti-choice bill that slashed the family planning budget, and put in place forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds and 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

Some Texas legislators criticized Zedler and DSHS over the summer, accusing the legislator and department of underhanded dealings intended to subvert the democratic process, writing in an open letter:

The proposed rule stems directly from legislation that has failed over the course of two legislative sessions and that repeatedly did not receive the support of the majority of the Texas Legislature. As such, we should not allow the political agenda of a single member to circumvent the democratic process and the will of the Legislature. If this rule is published and adopted, it sets a terrible precedent and will have serious ramifications for years to come.

As of 12/31/2012, the “terrible precedent” will have been set. El Paso’s Sen. Jose Rodriguez, who spoke out against the new rules in June, told Rewire this week via an official statement that he had reservations about DSHS “essentially implementing through administrative procedures what could not pass the legislative process.” He went on to say that he’s glad certain reporting requirements were scratched—like the education question—but doesn’t believe the new reporting requirements have the best interests of women or doctors in mind:

However, the bottom line is that DSHS has created reporting requirements aimed less at improving women’s health than advancing a political agenda. The new rules place more obstacles in the way of already heavily regulated women’s health providers.

Just as, it seems, Bill Zedler always wanted.