This article originally appeared at Vita di Donna on 31 March 2017 and can be read here (in Italian). Associazione Vita di Donna Onlus is a non-profit organization based out of Rome, Italy, that aims to protect women’s health and reproductive rights, headed up by Dr. Elisabetta Canitano.
A bill that passed the Texas Senate on 21 March 2017 would prevent physicians from being held liable for withholding information about fetal abnormalities to their patients. The intent of Senate Bill 25 (SB25) is to outlaw “wrongful birth” lawsuits, according the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Brandon Creighton. Supporters of SB25 believe that it should be up to physicians to decide to not inform a pregnant woman of potential severe disabilities in the fetus, particularly if the doctor believes the woman would choose to abort if she finds out. If SB25 passes the Texas House of Representatives and is signed into state law, it would be impossible to sue a physician for purposefully withholding this kind of information about the fetus.
However, should SB25 be signed into law, it would place undue restriction on a woman’s constitutional right to informed consent prior to choosing whether or not to have an abortion. Additionally, this potential law could also prevent patients from seeking experimental therapies for a severely malformed fetus if their doctor has not informed them of any abnormalities. Rachel Tiddle, a resident of Texas, had this exact situation happen – and she gave birth to a stillborn child as a result. As she testified in the Texas legislation, had she been told by her physician that the fetus she carried had serious health issues, she would have attempted to seek out treatments to correct or help mitigate these issues. If SB25 becomes law, Tiddle would not be able to bring a lawsuit against her doctor for withholding this particular information.
State Senator Creighton has stated that patients would be able to still sue doctors for malpractice in these cases, but SB25 appears to be entirely contradictory to this statement. The potential law also does not take into account the lives of low-income women or families when it comes to possibly raising a child with severe disabilities, which can often cost much more than raising a child without disabilities. This situation is made even worse in Texas, where many of SB25’s sponsors voted against a state Medicaid expansion that would have made health insurance more affordable for low-income households.
By protecting a doctor who knowingly withholds facts from their patients over protecting the right to complete and full information about their patients’ health and the health of the fetus, Texas lawmakers are making it clear that they do not have respect for women, low-income families, or even unborn children who could potentially receive additional therapeutic care while still in the womb. It is unconscionable, unacceptable, and contradictory to the primary role of a physician to be able to lie or withhold information from their patients without liability – and if SB25 becomes state law, Texas will be setting a dangerous precedent in potentially breaking what should be the inviolate bond between doctor and patient.
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