HHS issues new guidance to docs that emergency care includes abortions

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued clarifying guidance to doctors that abortions are considered part of life-saving emergency medical care, despite what a state law may say.

The guidance, released late Monday, comes less than a week after an executive order from President Joe Biden called for shoring up federal protections for reproductive care access and after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra sent a letter to providers to make it clear that the requirement to offer emergency services preempts state laws that restrict access to abortion in such circumstances. 

“Today, in no uncertain terms, we are reinforcing that we expect providers to continue offering these services,” Becerra said. “Healthcare must be between a patient and their doctor, not a politician.”

HHS said in the guidance that if a physician believes a pregnant patient in an emergency department is experiencing an emergency medical condition and abortion is the stabilizing treatment, “the physician must provide that treatment.”

Any state law that would not give an exception for an abortion to save the life of the mother would then be preempted by the federal directive, HHS contends. 

The missive comes as eight states have instituted abortion bans via trigger laws after the Supreme Court struck down Roe late last month, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Another three states have a ban or restriction that isn’t yet implemented, and another three have bans after six weeks.