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Texas House moves to require more abortion reporting data

Health facilities that perform abortions may soon have to release data on complications that arise during and after the procedure — another move by GOP lawmakers to crack down on abortions in Texas.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to indicate that the bill is unlikely to pass. 

Health facilities that perform abortions may soon have to release more detailed data on complications that arise during and after the procedure — another move by GOP lawmakers to crack down on abortions in Texas.  

House lawmakers voted 94-52 to require hospitals, birthing centers, community health centers and freestanding emergency rooms that perform abortions — not just abortion clinics — to submit complication reports to the Department of State Health Services. It's a move abortion foes hope will give them a fuller scope of problems associated with the procedure. (Updated, May 27: The House disagreed with a Senate amendment on the bill, and it's looking unlikely that the bill will pass.) 

Against their opponents' objections, GOP lawmakers also tacked on an amendment creating an online database for abortion complications, requiring doctors to report to the state within 72 hours of a complication, and seeking information as personal as the date of the woman's last menstrual cycle and her marital status.

"It's important to make sure complications that arise in abortions are disclosed and make sure we have the right data," said Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake and the bill's author.

Opponents argue House Bill 2962, which must get a final vote in the House before heading to the Senate for consideration, is completely medically unnecessary for a procedure with low complication rates and doesn't include more useful information like the name of the physician who performed the complicated abortion.

Reproductive rights groups have also raised concerns that the bill is so incomplete that it is only meant to help abortion opponents crack down on providers. It doesn't require reporting on complications in cases of self-induced abortions, for example — where the woman takes medication to induce abortion. They also fear it could lead to double-counting of complications, specifically pointing to the bill's requirement that providers report both "uterine perforation" and damage to the uterus.

During the more than two-hour debate on Thursday, several House Democrats took swipes at the bill. Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, asked Capriglione why he wanted more reporting on abortions when complications are minimal compared to procedures like vasectomies and tonsillectomies. 

"I think that there may be some people across the state of Texas that are concerned with complications of vasectomies," González said.

"I'm not advised about that," Capriglione responded. 

The bill is largely duplicative of existing state reporting requirements. Facilities must already provide details including the type of abortion that preceded the complication; the gestational age of the fetus at the time of the abortion; the date the complication was diagnosed or treated; and the number of abortions and children the patient previously had. Under Capriglione's bill, facilities found in violation of the reporting requirements would be fined $500; if a facility got a third violation, the state could revoke or suspend the facility's license and permits.

An amendment by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, does more to change existing law; it would require doctors who perform the procedure or treat women with complications to report those complications to the state within 72 hours. The amendment would also require the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop an electronic system for providers reporting abortion complications, and report any doctors in violation of the reporting requirements to the Texas Medical Board. Schaefer's amendment requires the doctor making the report to collect information on the date of the woman's last menstrual cycle before the abortion complication occurred, as well as her birth year, race, marital status and which state and county she lives in. The amendment passed 91-50. 

"If the agency sees that there's a problem at that particular facility with that physician, they can do something under their regulatory authority for women's health and women's safety," Schaefer said.

Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, was one of several Democrats to push back on Schaefer's amendment. Alvarado expressed concern that making the data electronic may put some doctors' information at risk if there's a cybersecurity breach. She also said she didn't understand why the same level of concern and data collection wasn't being applied to other health issues in the state.

"You're so obsessed with women's health, and I'm asking, why don't you apply that to men's health?" Alvarado asked. 

"What about boys and girls in the womb? What about little pre-born women in the womb?" Schaefer shot back.

The Senate companion to HB 2962, Senate Bill 1602, passed that chamber last week on a vote of 23-8. 

Throughout Thursday's House debate, Democrats decried the bill as an echo of 2013's House Bill 2, which forced Texas abortion facilities to have costly infrastructure like minimum room sizes and pipelines for anesthesia, and required their doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law last summer in a 5-3 decision.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, said Republicans were working to "eviscerate" the high court's decision by adding more reporting requirements for facilities. Gutierrez proposed an amendment that would have allowed county commissioners' courts to exempt facilities under their jurisdictions from the reporting requirements. The amendment failed.

"The Supreme Court found nothing that legitimized HB 2 and you want to come back here and do these record statistics?" Gutierrez asked. "When do we stop?"

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The Healthy Texas Women Program is the state’s second attempt at reimagining how to provide health services for low-income women without organizations that provide abortions at some of their locations.
  • The Texas Tribune spoke to Whole Woman's Health founder and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller ahead of the reopening of the organization's Austin location. 
  • Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas and around the country are vying for funding and survival now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress, the White House and many state legislatures. 
  • A high-ranking official at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is resigning after he co-authored an unflattering study that found the state’s exclusion of Planned Parenthood from a family planning program restricted women’s access to health care.

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