Health reporters can cover safety claims in abortion fight

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

The dramatic filibuster of Texas Senate Bill 5 has refocused the nation’s attention on abortion.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and her staunchly planted pink sneakers – along with help from a raucous crowd of spectators – delayed a vote on SB5 until three minutes past midnight on Wednesday, blocking its passage. It may be a short-lived victory for the Democrats, however.

Gov. Rick Perry quickly called another special session, starting today, to take up the bill again.

The bill and supporting documents – including the list of witnesses that testified for and against the legislation (AKA potential sources) – can be found here.

According to a report by the nonprofit Texas Tribune, there are two flashpoints in the proposed law.

The first is that it would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks gestation.  That provision is similar to a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June. The rationale for the legislation, which has been disputed by some doctors, is that fetuses older than 20 weeks can feel pain.

The second is this:

On and after September 1, 2014, the minimum standards for an abortion facility must be equivalent to the minimum standards adopted under Section 243.010 for ambulatory surgical centers.

Those minimum standards, which are set by the Texas Department of State Health Services, can be found here.

Democrats say the new rules would limit women’s access to abortion providers. Republicans contend that the stricter requirements are necessary to protect women’s safety.

Only five of the state’s 42 abortion providers would meet the new requirements without extensive upgrades, which could drive many out of business.

To pro-choice groups, the new provision is known as a TRAP, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.

Texas isn’t the only state that’s tangled with TRAPs. According to a timely new analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, 27 states already have such laws in place, covering about 60 percent of reproductive-age women.

The Guttmacher report breaks down state-specific TRAP regulations. It also summarizes research on the safety of abortion procedures. If you’re short on time, the notes of the report are here.

Whether there’s a safety issue with office-based surgical abortions is unclear. Many states don’t track adverse events related to office-based surgeries. Texas does, as it turns out. Enterprising reporters might be able to file a public information act request with the Texas Medical Board to learn whether office-based procedures are riskier than those performed in ambulatory surgery centers.

Want to check your own state? The Federation of State Medical Boards keeps a state-by-state list of regulations governing of office-based surgery here.

Other resources for reporters covering abortion rights issues: