Texas doctors are now allowed to perform “medically necessary” abortions for pregnant patients diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy or patients whose water breaks too early. The exceptions were quietly signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a notoriously conservative leader who also signed the draconian six-week abortion ban into law before Roe v. Wade fell.
Legislators got the bill to Abbott’s desk by omitting the actual word “abortion,” according to a new interview with the bill’s author. “I think what was key about this legislation is that it did not have the term ‘abortion’ in it,” state Rep. Ann Johnson (D) told NPR on Monday. “And because of that, it did not become a political football.”
The lack of clarity about Texas’ narrow exception to the near-total abortion ban has left pregnant patients in a near-fatal lurch. One Texan, Elizabeth Weller, was forced to bring in her own discharge to prove she had become ill enough after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy. The hospital finally agreed to induce her after she showed up at the emergency room. “We shouldn’t have to bring our own bodily fluids for them to believe that we’re getting sick,” Weller told Jezebel earlier this year. Weller is part of a group of plaintiffs suing the state to clarify the abortion exceptions.
The law’s new additions help protect physicians who provide abortion care from the bounty hunter law’s $10,000 civil suit, as well as disciplinary action from the medical board. “You read the black letter of the law,” Johnson said. “When I open the book and it says, ‘Abortion means,’ you don’t get to come later and say, ‘Oh, I really thought abortion meant something else.’”
The representative, who hails from Houston, told NPR that she believes anti-choice politicians were only trying to end an “elective procedure on a completely healthy fetus,” but the way the law was written left everyone in a bind. “The doctors and the hospitals and their lawyers were reading all of the Texas [abortion] statutes, some of them from the early 1900s, and saying, ‘Look, we can’t tell you what to do here – the language is confusing, the terminology and the definitions are confusing,’” Johnson said.
Because it’s Texas, Johnson’s creative wording needed Republican colleagues to get it to the finish line of the governor’s desk. State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R), who sponsored the state bounty hunter law, told the conservative National Review that he sponsored Johnson’s legislation in the Senate to “remove any doubt and remove any excuse” for doctors to administer proper care. (The proper care is typically abortion.)
However, this bill doesn’t help people who are seeking abortions in other contexts. “Yes, there are absolutely other pregnancy complications,” Johnson told NPR. “This is what we can accomplish in this moment. In this moment, we could get bipartisan agreement of the recognition of ectopic pregnancy and ruptured membrane.”
Johnson said she looks forward to doing more in future legislative sessions. “To me, it is a first step,” she told the radio outlet. “I just very strongly feel we need to do more.”