WASHINGTON – The Biden administration put health care providers on notice Monday that they must provide stabilizing care to pregnant patients and perform an abortion if the mother’s life is at risk, even when the procedure is illegal in the state where they practice.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance to hospitals and doctors reminding them of their obligations to stabilize patients in emergency situations.
“Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote in a letter to health care providers.
Becerra said the administration expects providers to continue offering abortion services under those circumstances and stressed that federal law preempts state abortion bans when abortions are needed for emergency care.
“Protecting both patients and providers is a top priority, particularly in this moment,” Becerra wrote. “Health care must be between a patient and their doctor, not a politician. We will continue to leverage all available resources at HHS to make sure women can access the life-saving care they need.”
The advisory comes just two weeks after a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that had established a constitutional right to abortion.
The administration is facing strong pressure from advocates to protect access to reproductive care services in light of the ruling.
On Friday, President Joe Biden announced several steps his administration is taking, including protecting access to medication and making legal representation available to women who choose to travel out of state for the procedure.
Biden instructed Becerra to submit a report in 30 days on protecting access to abortion medication and contraception and ensuring that women have access to emergency medical care.
In Monday’s guidance, the administration cited the requirements for health care providers under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The law requires medical facilities to determine whether a person seeking treatment may be in labor or whether they face an emergency health situation — or one that could develop into an emergency — and to provide treatment.
“If a physician believes that a pregnant patient presenting at an emergency department, including certain labor and delivery departments, 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 guidance said.
When state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the life and health of the pregnant woman — or draws the exception more narrowly than federal law’s emergency medical condition — “that state law is preempted,” the guidance said.
Emergency medical conditions for pregnant patients may include ectopic pregnancy, complications of pregnancy loss, or emergent hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia with severe features, the guidance said.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
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