Physicians could refuse to treat patients under proposed Texas laws

Two new bills heard this week by the Texas House Public Health Committee would expand health professionals’ capacity to opt out of medical procedures that conflict with their beliefs. Both bills are still pending in committee.

House Bill 1291 is sponsored by Rep. Keith Bell and would give health professionals written notice of their right to object to performing an abortion. According to Bell, this bill addresses the potential discrimination faced by providers who refuse to perform abortions. While current Texas law protects providers against such discrimination, Bell believes they need explicit written notice of their right to do so.


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He introduced his bill in the House Public Health Committee on Wednesday:

“House Bill 1291 ensures that students and health care professionals are adequately informed of their rights and recourse regarding their participation in procedures that may infringe on their personally held belief systems.”

Kyleen Wright testified on behalf of the pro-life advocacy group, the Texans for Life Committee. She said this bill is a necessary protection for pro-life physicians, and that her brother was almost barred from entering medical school by an evaluator because of his declared anti-abortion position.

She added that the bill would serve as a reminder to pro-life physicians of the 1977 law that gives them a legal right to refuse to participate in abortion services.

“Now, because the state and federal protections in place are so old, many of them [physicians] are unaware that they have this protection as an option … Without knowledge, these legal protections offer little value.”

House Bill 1424 is sponsored by the Chair of the House Insurance Committee, Rep. Tom Oliverson, and applies to broader medical practice. It would give physicians a “safe harbor” to refuse to participate in a medical procedure if it goes against their ethical, moral or religious beliefs.

“The bill ensures that a wide variety of providers in health care are not put in situations where they feel they are being coerced, their job is at stake or their career is at stake if they do not provide an elective health care service that they believe to be immoral, unethical or simply violates their beliefs.”

This bill would not apply to situations in which the patient has a life-threatening medical emergency. It wouldn’t permit providers to abstain from providing life-sustaining treatment either. It would, however, allow providers to transfer a patient with an emergent condition to another provider for treatment.

Oliverson emphasized his intent with the bill isn’t to discriminate against patients based on their medical status, but rather to ensure health care professionals have the right to adhere to their deeply held personal beliefs.

“I will draw a bright line — and, ultimately, this bill will draw a bright line — that this is about procedures and care. This is not about people. So this protection [does not say] … that this is a safe harbor to allow a health care provider to discriminate against an individual on the basis of who they are, their values or their background. This is solely to give a health care worker a protection to opt out of participating in an elective health care service that they believe [is] immoral or unethical.”