The Biden administration recently announced that hospitals must make sure women can get abortions when they are judged medically essential in emergency scenarios. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires that doctors must perform an abortion in an emergency regardless of state legislation.
The statement from HHS aims to reconcile the collection of prohibitions that are imprecise in their exclusions for situations where a mother’s life is at risk with the services that healthcare practitioners are legally permitted to offer under EMTALA. The Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade last month has left doctors in a legal dilemma. On the one hand, they can face legal action and even imprisonment for carrying out an abortion that authorities deem unnecessary. However, they may also run the risk of losing clients.
Under EMTALA hospitals that take Medicare and Medicaid are required to provide emergency care no matter the patient’s financial situation. It was first designed to stop patients who needed care from being turned away because of a lack of funds. The Biden administration argued that all state laws—including those that forbid exceptions for life or health—must yield to the federal statute.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra stated that “Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care. 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.” Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said, “Everyone should have access to the health care they need — especially in an emergency.”
The HHS decision came just after President Joe Biden signed an executive order to strengthen patient privacy safeguards for women seeking abortions and those who assist them. The order also seeks to preserve access to abortion and emergency contraception. Pro-abortion advocates have urged the Biden administration to do more to maintain abortion’s accessibility and legality, but Biden’s power to do so is restricted to executive actions.