This morning, the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs unanimously passed a bill on to the full Senate that would let the government decide what a pregnant woman deserves to know about the health of her unborn child.
Committee members, it appears, believe it should be up to the doctor to decide if a pregnant woman should know she's carrying a fetus with severe disabilities — especially if the doctor suspects she'll have an abortion if she finds out. If passed, the law would make it impossible for Texans to sue a doctor for intentionally withholding this kind of information about a fetus' health.
"It shouldn't be the policy for the state of Texas to excuse doctors from lying to their patients," said Blake Rocap, policy advisor for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, in his testimony before the committee. "That's what this bill does."
Supporters testified that Senate Bill 25 would protect doctor's rights and show respect to disabled children. Opponents said that disability rights argument is hollow, and simply a veiled attempt to undermine the basic liberties of Texas women.
"This bill places a unreasonable restriction on the constitutional right of a woman to make an informed decision about whether or not to have an abortion," said Margaret Johnson, testifying in front of the committee on behalf of the Texas League of Women Voters. "SB 25 is a not-so-subtle way to give medical personnel the opportunity to impose religious beliefs on women."
The bill, as currently drafted, would not only empower doctors to keep secrets from their patients about their own bodies, but would also entrust the government to make one of the most personal, private, and life-altering decisions for Texan woman: whether they should have an abortion.
For many low-income women, the alternative — raising a severely disabled child in a state with few affordable health insurance options — would force them into poverty. This outcome, the bill's opponents argue, would only worsen the child's health outcomes. And the majority of the bill's sponsors voted against state Medicaid expansion, a policy that would have made health insurance far more affordable for low-income families.
Not all of the bill's opponents testified for the sake of abortion access. Rachel Tiddle, who unknowingly carried a fetus with severe abnormalities, said if she knew her fetus had severe health issues, she would have tried one of many experimental therapies to try and save her baby's life. Instead, she gave birth to a stillborn baby.
"It's not a doctor's right to manipulate the family by lying, and it is not doctor's right to decide whether an experimental therapy is worth trying," Tiddle told the committee. "There is always chance, there is always hope."
Sen. Brandon Creighton, the bill's author, said that if the legislation passes, parents can still sue doctors under medical malpractice laws. But Blake Rocap, policy advisor for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and health care attorney, said "that's not how it works." Instead of pressing Rocap for more details, committee members asked a speaker from the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops to explain the legalese (she agreed with Creighton).
"Can I ask a question?" asked Tiddle, interrupting the line of questioning. "Don't you think this creates a climate where doctors feel they have the right to impose their own moral beliefs?"
No one on the committee could answer.