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TribBlog: DSHS Pulls Informed Consent Guidelines Down

State health officials have pulled guidelines allowing abortion facilities to use pre-recorded telephone messages to provide informed consent to patients off of their website. They said concerns raised by Rep. Frank Corte, who is seeking an AG opinion on the matter, "may have merit."

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State Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, is seeking an attorney general's opinion on whether abortion facilities can use pre-recorded telephone messages or one-way conference calls to provide information under the "informed consent," or "Woman's Right to Know Act." 

Under the act, at least 24 hours before performing an abortion, a doctor must give the patient the following information verbally: The medical risks associated with an abortion, the likely gestational age of the fetus, and the fact that medical and financial assistance may be available for prenatal care.

Corte's letter to the AG says the Department of State Health Services is interpreting the act to mean that doctors performing abortions can meet the informed consent threshold by providing the information in a pre-recorded telephone message — as long as the message is specific to that particular patient. Corte says DSHS is also allowing the doctors to provide information via a live conference call, one in which the patient listens, but cannot participate. He argues that DSHS's "interpretation of the statute is clearly at odds with its plain language," which he says does not "permit that information to be presented via a pre-recorded telephone message or a live, one-way 'conference call.'" 

"Informed consent is a process of communication that requires a physician not only to impart information to a patient, but also to ensure that the patient understands what has been communicated," Corte writes. "The process, in other words, calls for a dialogue, not a monologue."

On Thursday night, officials from DSHS said they have pulled their interpretation of the rules off of the agency's website.

"We believe Rep. Corte's concerns may have merit," spokeswoman Carrie Williams wrote in an email. "We have pulled the information from our Web site while we immediately review the statute and previous interpretation."

Corte's office said he wasn't available to speak about the letter.

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