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12th Jul 2022

Biden administration says doctors must provide abortion if there is a risk to the mother’s life

Ellen Fitzpatrick

This follows the decision on Roe v Wade.

The Biden Administration has told hospitals across the US that they “must” offer abortion services if the pregnant person’s life is at risk.

Federal law around emergency treatment guidelines preempts state laws in jurisdictions that have banned abortions, according to the administration, and is without exemptions despite the overturning of Roe v Wade.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has now cited requirements for medical facilities in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) and requires medical facilities to determine if a patient may be in labour or in an emergency health situation with the law calling on doctors to provide treatment in these cases.

“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 HHS stated in its guidance.

“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.”

This comes three days after President Joe Biden signed an executive order that was aimed at protecting access to abortion and reproductive health services.

The order came two weeks after the Supreme Court overturned the ruling that gave US citizens the right to access abortion services.

The order instructed the HHS and Justice Department to push back on efforts to stop those seeking these services from using federally approved abortion medication and travelling to other states for the procedure.

The HHS said that emergency conditions include “ectopic pregnancy, complications of pregnancy loss, or emergent hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia with severe features.”

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a letter to health care providers 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.”