By Tablet Staff
PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Monday healthcare providers must offer abortion services if the life of a mother is at risk and that procedures conducted under such circumstances would be protected under federal law regardless of various state bans.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said on July 11 that physicians must provide that treatment if they believe a pregnant patient is experiencing an emergency medical condition as defined by Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) and if abortion is a “stabilizing treatment”.
EMTALA requires medical facilities determine whether a person seeking treatment may be in labor or whether they face an emergency health situation and also protects providers when offering legally mandated abortion services in such situations.
The HHS statement said that emergency conditions include “ectopic pregnancy, complications of pregnancy loss, or emergent hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia with severe features.”
In a letter to health care providers, Secretary Becerra wrote, “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.”
The guidance does not reflect new policy, but merely reminds doctors and providers of their existing obligations under federal law, the agency said.
It comes days after President Joe Biden signed an executive order easing access to services to terminate pregnancies after the U.S. High Court’s decision last month to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling.
On Sunday, Biden said he had asked his administration to consider whether he has authority to declare an abortion-related public health emergency.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that declaring a public health emergency would not necessarily free up resources, citing the experience of heavy federal spending for the government’s response to COVID-19 and monkeypox.
“It also doesn’t release a significant amount of legal authority,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. “And so that’s why we haven’t taken that action yet.”
Still, she added: “Everything is on the table.”
The White House has been under pressure from Democrats to take action after the Supreme Court decision last month. Protecting abortion rights is a top issue for women Democrats. Published polling shows that more than 70% of Americans think the issue of abortion should be left to a woman and her doctor.