The Texas Senate’s Health and Human Services committee heard testimony this week on a bill that would increase restrictions on the RU-486 abortion pill regimen in the state. Senator Dan Patrick—who in 2011 authored the state’s mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound bill—has proposed forcing doctors to prescribe RU 486 solely according to FDA standards that are out of date with the latest science and not considered by medical professionals to be best practice.
Patrick said during the hearing that “all we’re asking is that the abortion clinics follow the FDA guidelines and the manufacturers’ guidelines,” describing the bill as “straightforward,” and developed with the help of professional Planned Parenthood defector Abby Johnson.
If Sen. Patrick’s bill becomes law, doctors would be asked to go back in time to the year 2000, ignoring medical advancements and progress made in the 13 years since FDA guidelines for the mifepristone-misoprostol regimen were written, putting women at increased risk for increased side effects and incomplete abortions.
The Texas Medical Association released a statement opposing the bill on the grounds that it’s a “slippery slope that will open the door for future legislation to further direct the practice of medicine,” while the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said the bill “does not promote women’s health” and is “essentially allowing the Legislature to practice medicine,” denying “women in Texas the benefits of well-researched, safe and proven protocols that currently exist.”
The bill would require physicians to prescribe the mifepristone-misoprostol regimen according to guidelines that the ACOG said in written testimony are “associated with greater side effects in women, roughly 3 times higher costs, and lower overall success rates.”
The bill would also require physicians to personally administer the regimen in doses separated 24 hours apart; currently, the second dosage is administered by the patient in the privacy of her home or, if she has had to travel to obtain the drug, often in a hotel room. Doctors would also be required to draw up written contracts with other doctors with hospital admitting privileges, who would agree to treat a patient in case of complications.
Patients would also be required to visit the original prescribing physician within 14 days of taking the medicine, a change from current practice that allows them to visit their own primary care providers or a local physician, which the ACOG testified is important “particularly for women in remote areas who may have to travel long distance to access specialized gynecologic services.”
The bill is currently pending, but expected to advance through the committee, which held back public testimony after Sen. Patrick’s “invited witnesses” spoke, including two women, one a crisis pregnancy center counselor, who described taking RU-486 in graphic detail. Later, as the sun was setting in Austin, a handful of opponents to SB97, some who had waited eight or more hours to give testimony spoke against the bill, by which time many committee members had left.
Amelia Long, president of the Lilith Fund, a Texas non-profit that helps low-income Texans pay for abortion procedures, told those left in the darkening room that the women who contact her group have one thing in common: “They simply can’t afford the cost of their abortion.” She said SB97 would make abortion even harder to access for rural and low-income Texans in a state where 90 percent of counties have no abortion provider.
The bill’s requirements that Texans take both doses in a doctor’s office, combined with the two-week follow-up visit with the prescribing physician, would be an untenable burden on Long’s clients, she said: “They can’t afford the procedure, much less the cost of transportation, travel, lodging, absence from work and child care for children they already have.”