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Texas Dept. of Health Goes Big Brother: Extrajudicial and Invasive Collection of Info on Women and Doctors to Begin in 2013

12:41 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Big Data, The Moving Parts: Fast Data, Big Analytics, and Deep Insight

Big Data, The Moving Parts: Fast Data, Big Analytics, and Deep Insight

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all of our exclusive coverage of Rep. Bill Zedler here.

In 2013, the state of Texas will begin gathering new and more invasive information on women seeking and doctors providing safe abortion care thanks to new reporting requirements developed extrajudicially at the insistence of an anti-choice Tea Party lawmaker and now being implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Representative Bill Zedler tried, but failed, to get new reporting requirements enacted by law in the 2011 legislative session, so he asked the Health and Human Services Commission to do it for him; now, after months of public hearings and input from doctors and clinicians decrying the new rules, he’s succeeded.

Zedler originally wanted to go full-Big Brother on the subject of abortion, compiling a dream list of information (including the age of the “father” and a check-off list of Zedler-imagined reasons for termination, such as the favorite anti-choice scare story that “the woman does not prefer the gender of the unborn child,”) that he intended to collect about patients and doctors. The reporting data has been scaled back somewhat in the final, adopted version of the new rules, which will take effect on December 31, 2012.

Changes made to the adopted draft include deletion of a question about the woman’s level of education and an addition giving doctors 30 rather than 20 days to report abortion “complications.” However, that term is never defined in the statute despite repeatedly-voiced concerns from doctors and health providers that such vagueness could be used against doctors who failed to report “complications” to DSHS’s satisfaction.

DSHS also added a reporting requirement that didn’t exist in the original draft language: that doctors report “the type of anesthesia, if any, used in the procedure: intravenous sedation or general anesthesia.” This addition is particularly timely in light of Governor Rick Perry’s sudden new interest in the subject of fetal pain, which he’s using as a cover for his ultimate goal of banning all abortions.

RH Reality Check originally broke the story of Zedler’s back-door efforts to get his personal curiosity about abortion-seeking women made into law in April, when Texas health officials tried to quietly call a meeting of abortion provider stakeholders, the purpose of which was to address “some amendments the department has included that specifically relate to a request by Representative Zedler,” in the provider regulation rules, according to DSHS Health Care Quality Section Director Renee Clack.

The DSHS communications arm later said that Clack “misspoke” with her name-drop of Zedler and that instead, the rules were being considered as the result of “a general discussion among state leadership that resulted in us agreeing to look into it once it was clear the Rep. Zedler amendment would not be added to SB7,” which was 2011′s sweeping anti-choice bill that slashed the family planning budget, and put in place forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds and 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

Some Texas legislators criticized Zedler and DSHS over the summer, accusing the legislator and department of underhanded dealings intended to subvert the democratic process, writing in an open letter:

The proposed rule stems directly from legislation that has failed over the course of two legislative sessions and that repeatedly did not receive the support of the majority of the Texas Legislature. As such, we should not allow the political agenda of a single member to circumvent the democratic process and the will of the Legislature. If this rule is published and adopted, it sets a terrible precedent and will have serious ramifications for years to come.

As of 12/31/2012, the “terrible precedent” will have been set. El Paso’s Sen. Jose Rodriguez, who spoke out against the new rules in June, told RH Reality Check this week via an official statement that he had reservations about DSHS “essentially implementing through administrative procedures what could not pass the legislative process.” He went on to say that he’s glad certain reporting requirements were scratched — like the education question — but doesn’t believe the new reporting requirements have the best interests of women or doctors in mind:

However, the bottom line is that DSHS has created reporting requirements aimed less at improving women’s health than advancing a political agenda. The new rules place more obstacles in the way of already heavily regulated women’s health providers.

Just as, it seems, Bill Zedler always wanted.

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In Letter, Texas Department of Health Accused by Ten Democratic Legislators of Subverting Democratic Process

11:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Texas Has Oil, Cattle, Cotton & More

(photo: Calsidyrose/flickr)

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In opposition to new proposed abortion reporting restrictions in Texas, ten Democratic legislators have sent an open letter to Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs urging him to not to move forward with the new rules, which would increase the amount of information gathered on abortion-seeking people and require doctors to report vaguely defined “complications” from abortion.

“The proposed rule does not represent the will of the legislative body and, if implemented through rulemaking, would serve to circumvent the legislative process,” wrote the legislators.

The new rules are being proposed after anti-choice, Tea Party-endorsed legislator Rep. Bill Zedler and his past colleagues were repeatedly unable to enact them through democratic means in the Texas Legislature over the past several years. Texas health officials have agreed to look into adopting the failed legislation by rule rather than law. In their letter, the Democratic legislators say this sets a “terrible precedent.”

“If this rule is published and adopted, it sets a terrible precedent and will have serious ramifications for years to come,” write the legislators.

But Texas health officials seem anxious to appease Zedler, though they are increasingly backtracking on initial openness about cooperating with the legislator.

As originally reported by RH Reality Check, at the first public meeting discussing the new requirements in April 2012, Department of State Health Services regulatory unit manager Renee Clack said the meeting was called to discuss “some amendments the department has included that specifically relate to a request by Representative Zedler.”

DSHS’ openness about the origins of their new rule are also illustrated in documents obtained by the Austin Chronicle and shared with RH Reality Check this week. They include a March 21, 2012 memo sent from Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey to Executive Commissioner Suehs “to discuss possible reporting requirements that relate to an amendment by Representative William Zedler.” The memo describes the rules’ background thusly: Read the rest of this entry →

Texas Rep, Having Failed to Pass Anti-Choice Law, Orders Department of Health to Do His Bidding Anyway

11:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Texas Republican House Representative Bill Zedler couldn’t get the anti-choice amendment he proposed during last year’s special lawmaking session approved by his peers in the legislature–he’d like to gather as much information as possible on women seeking, and doctors performing, abortions–so he’s asked the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to do it for him. And at a meeting held last week in Austin, it became clear the DSHS brass is happy to help him out.

The Texas DSHS called the abortion provider stakeholders meeting one afternoon last week to begin the process of getting public comment on “updated reporting requirements” instituted at the behest of Rep. Zedler.

It confirms the worst fears of abortion providers who suspected, when they were notified a week before about the meeting, “that the truth the state is hiding is that it now means to implement by regulation what it has failed for the past several years to accomplish through legislation.”

DSHS Health Care Quality Section Director Renee Clack told a group of about twenty abortion providers, pro-choice activists and clinical workers that the “primary reason” for the meeting was to address implementation of two laws passed last year that require mandatory transvaginal sonograms and exclude Planned Parenthood from participating in Texas’ Medicaid Women’s Health Program, and also to address “some amendments the department has included that specifically relate to a request by Representative Zedler.”

Even though lawmakers did not approve these new rules because Zedler’s amendment–and others like it–have repeatedly been shot down in legislative session or languished in committee hearings, the DSHS says it has the “authority” to initiate them anyway, so that’s what they’re going to do.

The DSHS’ willingness to take up new requirements that, by their own admission, they were not seeking to institute before Rep. Zedler’s request raises disturbing questions: Can individual lawmakers simply bypass the legislative process and “request” that state departments do their bidding? Why should lawmakers bother trying to pass laws with the consent of their fellow democratically-elected legislators when they can just “request” state departments do their bidding later on?

When pressed by RH Reality Check, the DSHS reps refused to clarify its intentions with the updated reporting requirements and specify how the updated requirements–which are redundant at best and intimidating at worst–would benefit the public health and safety of Texans. Their refrain: we have the authority to do this, so we’re doing it. 

[cont.] Read the rest of this entry →