During a press briefing on Monday, 12th July, the Biden administration said federal law overrides state bans on abortion when it comes to life-saving care and that hospitals must provide abortion care in emergency situations.
Denying care under those circumstances risks being fined or losing their Medicare status, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports.
The Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade on June 24th left the abortion question up to individual states, but this by doing so, it also undermined the guarantee of access to the procedure in medical emergencies. Several states are attempting to ban any such care whatsoever.
“Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care”. Xavier Becerra, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, stated that in a letter to health care providers. “Today, in no uncertain terms, we are reinforcing that we expect providers to continue offering these services, and that federal law preempts state abortion bans when needed for emergency care.”
“If a physician believes that a pregnant patient presenting at an emergency department is experiencing an emergency medical condition as defined by EMTALA, and that abortion is the stabilizing treatment necessary to resolve that condition, the physician must provide that treatment,” the agency’s guidance explains.
“When a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the life of the pregnant person — or draws the exception more narrowly than EMTALA’s emergency medical condition definition — that state law is preempted.”
EMTALA, or the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, mandates that all health facilities must treat a woman, who may be pregnant, who is in a state of labor, is experiencing an emergency, or is in a situation that might lead to one.
“As frontline health care providers, the federal EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act) statute protects your clinical judgment and the action that you take to provide stabilizing medical treatment to your pregnant patients, regardless of the restrictions in the state where you practice,” Becerra wrote.
“when offering legally-mandated, life- or health-saving abortion services in emergency situations,” HHS said. Those include things like ectopic pregnancy, hypertension and preeclampsia, which some states have already more strictly prohibited following the recent Supreme Court ruling. And some states have even more stringent bans, prohibiting abortion even when it’s medically necessary.
As reported by the Associated Press, “Even the states with the most stringent bans on abortion do allow exceptions when the health of a mother is at risk, though the threat of prosecution has created confusion for some doctors.”
Reports by the Associated Press indicated that the letter is a reiteration of existing law and does not represent a new policy.
“Under federal law, providers in emergency situations are required to provide stabilizing care to someone with an emergency medical condition, including abortion care if necessary, regardless of the state where they live,” Health and Human Services’ administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services told the AP.