HHS Guidance Ensures Pregnant Women Have Access to Emergency Medical Care

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced new guidance and communication to ensure all patients — including pregnant women and others experiencing pregnancy loss — have access to the full rights and protections for emergency medical care afforded under the law. This announcement followed President Biden’s recent executive order on reproductive health.

HHS, through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), issued clarifying guidance on the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) and reaffirmed that it protects providers when offering legally-mandated, life- or health-saving abortion services in emergency situations. In addition to the guidance, Secretary Xavier Becerra, in a letter to providers, made clear that this federal law preempts state law restricting access to abortion in emergency situations.

“Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “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. Protecting both patients and providers is a top priority, particularly in this moment. Health care must be between a patient and their doctor, not a politician. We will continue to leverage all available resources at HHS to make sure women can access the life-saving care they need.”

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“Everyone should have access to the health care they need — especially in an emergency,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “Under federal law, providers in emergency situations are required to provide stabilizing care to someone with an emergency medical condition, including abortion care if necessary, regardless of the state where they live. CMS will do everything within our authority to ensure that patients get the care they need.”

The EMTALA statute requires that Medicare hospitals provide all patients an appropriate medical screening, examination, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary, irrespective of any state laws or mandates that apply to specific procedures. Stabilizing treatment could include medical and/or surgical interventions, including abortion. If a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the health or 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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Read the Secretary’s letter to health care providers here.

Read the EMTALA guidance issued here.

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