TX State Report: Abortion Clinics Extremely Safe; TX Legislators: Back Alleys Are Safer

If you talk about abortion politics with Texas Democrats long enough, one phrase tends to emerge with staggering frequency: "It's a solution without a problem." That refrain doesn't do justice to how harmful these "solutions" are for women, but it does describe the pointlessness of extraneous restrictions on an already safe procedure.

Before, during, and after the filibuster, Texas women demanded that Republican lawmakers show proof of the necessity of ambulatory surgical centers and additional "safety" measures that obstruct status quo abortion practices. But on the House and Senate floors, the abortion bill debate was cloaked in the language of "raising standards" and protecting women from nonexistent Gosnell bogeymen.

Meanwhile, a recently released letter to a congressional committee from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission shows that abortion facilities are well-regulated and do not pose a health threat to women. Several state and medical organizations monitor clinics and administer disciplinary actions against the slightest regulatory violations. Even with the extremely close oversight, these agencies have not found recurring hazards or threats to women seeking abortions.

In May of this year, the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission provide information on the efficacy of "oversight and regulation of abortion facilities in Texas."

Kyle Janek, the executive commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, replied almost two months later with information from the four Texas agencies that monitor abortion clinics and providers: the Department of State Health Services, the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Texas Medical Board, and the Texas Board of Nursing.

The data that Janek sent to the committee accounted for abortion clinics from 2008 to 2013.

The vast majority of the study shows that Texas abortion clinics are incredibly safe and closely regulated without the restrictions passed in the omnibus abortion bill.

The Department of State Health Services inspects each abortion facility in Texas every year to make sure that the clinics are clean, safe, and compliant with the law. According to Janek's letter, inspectors pay special attention to abortions performed on minors and compliance with the 2011 sonogram law. The department also has the authority to issue, suspend, or revoke abortion facility licenses. Clinics must be relicensed every two years.

Between 2008 and 2013, the department licensed about 40 abortion clinics each year. During that time, no abortion facilities had their licenses suspended or revoked for any reason.

Additionally, all abortion facilities are required to report any complications with an abortion procedure to the Department of State Health Services. The DSHS also investigates each report of post-16 week abortions in non-ambulatory surgical centers, all but eliminating the possibility of a licensed Gosnell-like clinic from operating in Texas.

The Texas Medical Board also fields complaints about physicians and investigates them. Since 2011, only three complaints against abortion facilities have been filed with the TMB.

The Texas Medical Board has only taken four disciplinary actions against any Texas abortion clinics since 2008. The Texas Board of Nursing, which administers more than 2,500 disciplinary orders annually, has not taken action against any nurse working in an abortion facility since at least 2002.

During past the five and a half years, the DSHS has only found it necessary to take disciplinary action against abortion clinics 16 times. Of those 16 disciplinary actions, most involved operating an abortion clinic without a license.

In at least four cases, clinics reported that DSHS told the locations that they did not need abortion clinic licenses if they were only administering Mifepristone, the abortion pill. Those clinics later filed for a license, which is when they received disciplinary action. Four more clinics received disciplinary action for not posting their license number on their website.

Doctors, nurses, and medical organizations vehemently opposed the omnibus abortion bill, claiming that it places unnecessary barriers between women, their doctors, and health care. Now, the very institutions created to regulate and monitor clinics — in some cases, directed by Perry-appointed officials — are showing that the abortion regulations are unwarranted.

For the Department of State Health Services to shut down one abortion clinic, an investigation into a complaint would have to show that the facility is a threat to women's health. But the Texas Legislature and Perry are shuttering 37 across the state, severely limiting women's access to health care, without any proof of injury.

Just because licensed clinics do not receive disciplinary actions does not mean that dangerous abortions are obsolete. In fact, the World Health Organization recently reported that unsafe abortions are on the rise, and "[r]estrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates."

In other words, Gosnell's clinic is an example of what happens when desperate, poor women must fight back against extreme restrictions and a lack of women's health resources.

Historically, the biggest danger to women seeking an abortion is a lack of clean, safe facilities with qualified practitioners. Janek's report to the U.S. House committee shows that the number one health threat for Texas women is not abortion: It's right-wing legislators.

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