Biden admin says doctors must offer abortion if mother’s life at risk
By ZEKE MILLER Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Monday told hospitals that they “must” provide abortion services if the life of the mother is at risk, saying federal law on emergency treatment guidelines preempts state laws in jurisdictions that now ban the procedure without any exceptions following the Supreme Court’s decision to end a constitutional right to abortion.
The Department of Health and Human Services cited requirements on medical facilities in 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 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 agency’s guidance states. “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.”
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The President is directing Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra (pictured) to submit a report to him within 30 days on the actions his department is taking on the matter. The President is also establishing an interagency task force on reproductive health care access, which will include Attorney General Merrick Garland.
HHS will take action to expand access to emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices, or IUDs, according to the White House. The department is tasked with ensuring patients have access to "the full rights and protections for emergency medical care afforded under the law" and the President has directed Becerra to consider updating guidance that clarifies physician responsibilities and protections under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Garland has also issued a statement saying states cannot ban Mifepristone -- a medication used to end early pregnancy that has FDA approval.
The department will ramp up outreach and public education efforts on abortion "to ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to care."
In preparation for expected legal challenges ahead, the attorney general and the White House counsel are convening private pro bono attorneys and organizations to provide more legal representation to those lawfully seeking abortions as well as those providing them.
The executive order also focuses on protecting patient privacy. The President is asking the chair of the Federal Trade Commission to consider taking steps to protect consumer privacy when seeking information about reproductive health care services. Biden has also directed Becerra, in consultation with Garland and the FTC, to consider options to address deceptive or fraudulent practices and protect access to accurate information.
The President is directing HHS to consider additional actions to safeguard sensitive information related to reproductive health care, including under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Becerra has directed the HHS Office for Civil Rights to issue new guidance related to the HIPAA Privacy Rule to clarify that doctors and medical providers are in most cases not required -- and in many instances not permitted -- to disclose the private information of patients, including to law enforcement. The office will also issue a guide for consumers on how to protect personal data on mobile apps.
The order also looks to ensure the safety of those seeking as well as providing abortion care, including by protecting mobile clinics that have been deployed to provide care for out-of-state patients.