The Biden administration on Monday told hospitals that they “must” provide abortion services if the life of the mother is at risk.
As reported by CBS News, the administration contended that federal law on emergency treatment guidelines preempts state laws in jurisdictions where abortion has been banned since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cited requirements on medical facilities in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires hospitals to determine whether a person seeking treatment may be in labor or whether they face an emergency health situation and to provide necessary treatment.
“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 stated.
“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,” the HHS guidance continued.
Emergency conditions could include “ectopic pregnancy, complications of pregnancy loss, or emergent hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia with severe features.”
In a letter to health care providers, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote that “it is critical that providers know that a physician or other qualified medical personnel's professional and legal duty to provide stabilizing medical treatment to a patient who presents to the emergency department and is found to have an emergency medical condition preempts any directly conflicting state law or mandate that might otherwise prohibit such treatment.”
Becerra added that hospitals that decline to provide abortion services in these cases could have their Medicare provider agreement terminated or face financial penalties. Individual physicians could also be cut from Medicare and state health programs.
“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,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure told the Associated Press.
“CMS will do everything within our authority to ensure that patients get the care they need,” she added.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.