Women understand that pelvic exams are medically necessary and a normal part of wellness checkups. But too often in this country, they are performed unnecessarily and without a woman’s consent, frequently while she is under anesthesia for an unrelated procedure.
This practice, done for years to help educate medical students, needs to end, and we are glad to say it has in Texas.
The Legislature passed and the governor signed House Bill 1434 this session, requiring hospital staff to get informed consent from a patient prior to surgery in order to do the procedure. This decision has been a long time coming, especially after the viral hashtag #MeTooPelvic spurred conversations about a practice that many didn’t know existed.
It started in 2019 with a New York Times article in which a woman told her story about finding out she’d been given a pelvic exam that she had not consented to during a surgical procedure. As a sexual assault survivor, she found this triggering, and she went on to tell her story and warn other women that the same thing could happen to them.
After the story broke, the hashtag popped up, and women all over the country began sharing similar stories of waking up sore and confused after undergoing surgeries where their sexual organs weren’t relevant.
This practice is surprisingly common. A 2019 study by ELLE magazine showed that 92% of medical students surveyed from seven major American medical schools had performed a pelvic exam on an anesthetized female patient, at least 61% of those without consent.
While patients sign a form allowing a medical student to participate in their care, the wording is vague and doesn’t discuss students performing unnecessary procedures on unconscious patients, especially on sexual organs.
After legislation failed to advance in a prior session, this bill deserves only one word: finally.
Effective Sept. 1, doctors must obtain informed consent from patients by including a checkbox on the consent form with “CONSENT FOR EXAMINATION OF PELVIC REGION” in 18-point font and bold lettering. The bill subjects those who fail to get informed consent to disciplinary action or denial of license.
After years of prompting and failed bills, this law is an important step for the discussions of informed consent in the medical community and for the women whom this abusive practice has harmed.
Dallas Morning News