WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says its law requiring emergency medical treatment takes priority over state restrictions prohibiting abortions. The guidance is meant to protect pregnant patients facing serious medical situations following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The department said that physicians’ judgment will prevail to protect the health of women in labor and with conditions such as ectopic pregnancies or dangerously high blood pressure, as required by its Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.
If an abortion “is the stabilizing treatment necessary to resolve that condition, the physician must provide that treatment,” HHS secretary Xavier Becerra said in a letter to health providers on Monday.
To ensure hospitals and physicians comply, HHS will fine them and block payments from Medicare and Medicaid if physicians or hospitals don’t comply. Those in violation face fines ranging from about $60,000 to $120,000.
HHS says the guidance should resolve the dilemma health care providers now face as new restrictions limiting or banning abortion in about half of US states take effect. Those new laws include fines of as high as tens of thousands of dollars and up to a decade in jail. Women seeking treatment for dangerous pregnancy or labor conditions have already found themselves turned away in some situations and forced to seek care in less restrictive states.
Not providing needed screening and treatment also violates hospitals’ Medicare conditions of participation, HHS said.