Biden administration issues post-ruling reminder on emergency abortions

TOP SCOTUS 042424 AP Joy Asico Smith

The Biden administration is reminding hospitals and physicians they are legally required to perform emergency abortions to stabilize the health of a patient, in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that allowed current law to remain in place for now. 

In a letter sent to hospitals and provider groups Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said it is a hospital’s legal duty to offer necessary stabilizing medical treatment to all patients in medical emergencies, even if that means performing an abortion. 

The letter noted that while Supreme Court did not resolve the question about whether state abortion bans can supersede federal law, the order means that women in Idaho are able to access needed emergency medical care.  

“No pregnant woman or her family should have to even begin to worry that she could be denied the treatment she needs to stabilize her emergency medical condition in the emergency room,” the letter stated. 

“And yet, we have heard story after story describing the experiences of pregnant women presenting to hospital emergency departments with emergency medical conditions and being turned away because medical providers were uncertain about what treatment they were permitted to provide,” the officials wrote.  

The case centered on the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires federally funded hospitals to provide stabilizing care to emergency room patients no matter their ability to pay.  

Shortly after the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, HHS quickly invoked EMTALA and sent letters to doctors, saying that they were required to provide abortions in emergency medical situations when they were needed to keep a woman medically stable.  

But Idaho argued its near total abortion ban overrides the federal requirement, because it has an exception for life but not health. Idaho argued states can create a carveout for abortion under the emergency law if the patient’s life is not at risk.  

CMS in the letter Tuesday said investigations of emergency room complaints would proceed in Idaho and other states while litigation continues in the lower courts.  

But the Court’s lack of action means that enforcement in Texas, the country’s most populous state with a strict six-week abortion ban, will still be on hold because of a lower court ruling.  

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