Updated Aug. 15, 10 a.m.:
State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, has joined a coalition of medical groups in opposition to a proposed Department of State Health Services rule that would ban doctors who participate in the Texas Women's Health Program from discussing abortion with their patients. Davis expressed her concerns in an Aug. 13 letter to Thomas Suehs, executive director of the Health and Human Services Commission.
"Few relationships are as sacred as the doctor-patient relationship," Davis wrote in the letter. "I have been an outspoken critic of any legislation that interferes with this relationship, and oppose any rules that are ambiguous enough to prevent a doctor from sharing his or her best medical advice with a patient."
Davis, a breast cancer survivor, has been a strong proponent of the Women's Health Program, especially because it provides potentially life-saving cancer screenings.
Original story: A proposed state rule that would prohibit doctors in Texas' Women's Health Program from discussing the option of abortion with their patients — even if the patient asks about it — has drawn the opposition of Texas medical groups.
The groups take issue specifically with a clause that states the provider must not "promote elective abortions." The word "promote" as defined by the proposed rule includes counseling and referrals to abortion providers, as well as the display of any materials from abortion providers.
In a letter to the Department of State Health Services on Friday, the Texas Medical Association, along with four other groups representing a combined 47,000 physicians and medical students, wrote that the rule would jeopardize medical ethics and doctors' relationships with their patients. They argued that doctors might leave the program as a result of the rule, putting the already embattled program at risk.
“The relationship between patient and physician is based on trust and creates the physician’s ethical obligations to place the patient’s welfare above his or her own personal politics, self-interest and above obligations to other groups,” the letter states.
State health officials responded in a written statement, saying they appreciate the groups' concerns and will carefully review all the input they get on the proposed rule. "We understand that doctors have certain professional obligations to their patients, and we want to ensure that the rule allows doctors to meet those obligations," Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said.
Texas' Women's Health Program, which provides contraception and health screenings — but not abortions — to some of the poorest women in the state, is no stranger to controversy. The program is already set to lose more than $30 million in annual federal Medicaid funding since lawmakers moved to exclude Planned Parenthood and other clinics affiliated with abortion providers from the program. Gov. Rick Perry has asked state health leaders to find adequate funding in Texas' budget to maintain the program without federal help.
Friday's letter was co-signed by the Texas division of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Texas Academy of Family Physicians and the Texas Pediatric Society.