Women's Health Program Gag Rule Defeated

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Responding to strong opposition from TMA and state specialty societies, Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek, MD, pulled the gag clause from rules governing the state's redesigned Women's Health Program.

As proposed by Commissioner Janek's predecessor, the rule would have prohibited a participating physician from discussing abortion with a patient. The new rule still prohibits Women's Health Program funds from going to a physician or provider who promotes or performs abortion, but the definition of "promote" was revised to exclude "neutral, factual information and nondirective counseling."

TMA President Michael Speer, MD, praised the change. "It is very important that patients are able to trust that their doctor is giving the best medical advice for them – based on their medical needs and nothing else," he said.

TMA remains concerned for the program's long-term viability – and for the women it serves – as the state next month tries to run the program on its own without $35 million a year in federal funding.

On Oct. 31, the Texas Tribune reported that the revised Women's Health Program would not launch on Nov. 1, as the state had planned, until the legal battle over including Planned Parenthood in the program is resolved. But the Austin American-Statesman said Gov. Rick Perry announced the state is ready to begin the program without Planned Parenthood when the federal government stops funding for the contraceptive and preventive care program for low-income women. 

After Texas legislators excluded Planned Parenthood and other "abortion affiliates" from participating as providers in the program, the federal government withdrew funding. Planned Parenthood sued the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to remain in the program. The new rules governing the redesigned program include a "poison pill" provision, which would eliminate the program entirely if Planned Parenthood prevails in the lawsuit. 


Action, Nov. 2, 2012


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