HHS reminds medical providers that federal law trumps state abortion bans in emergencies

Every state with an abortion ban includes exceptions when an abortion is necessary to save a woman's life

Updated: July 11, 2022 - 5:34pm

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday reminded medical providers that abortions must be given to patients in medical emergencies, but every state with abortion bans includes exceptions to save a woman's life. 

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote in a letter to American "Health Care Providers" following President Joe Biden's executive order on abortion that protects access to contraception and states that medical professionals who perform emergency abortions are protected under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).

"[I]f a physician believes that a pregnant patient presenting at an emergency department, including certain labor and delivery departments, 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," Becerra stated.

"And when a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the life and health of the pregnant person — or draws the exception more narrowly than EMTALA’s emergency medical condition definition — that state law is preempted," he wrote. 

All states with abortion restrictions of any kind include some type of exception to save a mother's life.

"Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care," HHS Secretary Becerra said in a press release. "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."