ACP: Texas Legislation on Reproductive Health Care Denies Needed Health Care Services, Interferes With Patient-Physician Relationship

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ACP has signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief to be filed with the Supreme Court

Sept. 17, 2021 (ACP) – The American College of Physicians is working with its allies to fight new restrictions put in place by the Texas Heartbeat Act and to stop other state legislatures from passing similar laws.

On Sept. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to block the Texas law, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest. “The Texas Heartbeat Act does grave harm to the ability of Texans to access needed health care services, denies women their right to make decisions about their own health, and fundamentally violates the relationship between a patient and their physician,” said Dr. George M. Abraham, president of ACP. “ACP is committed to doing all it can to reverse this, and other laws, that harm our patients.”

The Texas Heartbeat Act is unusual because ordinary citizens -- not government officials -- are designated as its enforcers. The law “deputizes private individuals to sue anyone who performs the procedure or ‘aids and abets' it,” The New York Times reported. “The patient may not be sued, but doctors, staff members at clinics, counselors, people who help pay for the procedure, and even an Uber driver taking a patient to an abortion clinic are all potential defendants. Plaintiffs, who do not need to live in Texas, have any connection to the abortion or show any injury from it, are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees recovered if they win. Prevailing defendants are not entitled to legal fees.”

The Supreme Court decision -- to not stop the law from going into effect -- is not final. “The majority stressed that it was not ruling on the constitutionality of the Texas law and did not mean to limit ‘procedurally proper challenges' to it,” The Times reported.

Still, the restrictions are now in place, and other Republican-led states are eager to follow the lead of Texas.

ACP members could face harm, said Shari Erickson, ACP vice president for governmental affairs and medical practice. “Our members are more likely to be the ones providing a referral or counseling someone about abortion. Under the law, a physician who doesn't perform abortions could be reported by a private citizen for having discussed the option of abortion with a patient,” she said. “The law harms the patient-physician relationship and sets a bad precedent for the country.”

ACP has already signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief that is planned to be filed with the Supreme Court. The court acted before the brief could be filed.

ACP responded to the court's ruling with a strong statement, and it joined with six other medical organizations to raise the alarm publicly. “This new law will endanger patients and clinicians, putting physicians who provide necessary medical care, or even offer evidence-based information, at risk, by allowing private citizens to interfere in women's reproductive health decision making. Moreover, this law virtually eliminates women's access to evidence-based, comprehensive care and information, and denies women their right to make decisions about their own health,” the organizations wrote. “Our organizations are firmly against any policies that limit the evidence-based practice of medicine, threaten the patient-physician relationship, and inhibit the delivery of safe, timely, and necessary comprehensive care, including reproductive health services and information.”

In addition to ACP, the organizations that signed the statement -- representing nearly 600,000 physicians and medical students -- include the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Osteopathic Association and American Psychiatric Association.

Other organizations have asked to sign the statement, Erickson said, and ACP is gathering their names prior to sharing them publicly. “We're ready to file our legal brief about the Texas case to put forward the perspective of physicians, and we'll continue to monitor legislation in other states,” Erickson said. “We'll also keep working with allied organizations as a united front standing up for patients and physicians.”

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Back to the September 17, 2021 issue of ACP Advocate