The Biden administration is under fire from the largest group of Catholic healthcare workers for directing medical staff to perform emergency abortions in accordance with federal law

The Biden administration is under fire from the largest group of Catholic healthcare workers for directing medical staff to perform emergency abortions in accordance with federal law

The scene outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., after the court released its decision in the Dobbs case, June 24, 2022. / Katie Yoder/CNA

The Biden administration is under fire from the largest group of Catholic healthcare workers for directing medical staff to perform emergency abortions in accordance with federal law.

Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, issued a letter on July 11 authorising clinicians to carry out abortions in emergencies – regardless of state law.

Dr. Marie Hilliard, co-chair of the Catholic Medical Association’s Ethics Committee, told CNA that Catholic healthcare organisations and providers are dedicated to the same objectives as those set forth by EMTALA.

They are committed to giving the woman and her unborn child the best care possible without directly compromising either one in the process.

She continued: “In fact, Catholic healthcare has shown that both may be exquisitely served by the consistently high quality of treatment it is renowned to give.”

No matter their insurance status or financial situation, every person who enters an emergency room gets treated and stabilised thanks to the 1986 passage of EMTALA.

The Biden administration claims that it now covers abortion.

The same directive from Becerra’s letter was also included in a memo released on July 11 by the HHS-affiliated Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Using patients with ectopic pregnancies, problems from miscarriage, or acute hypertensive illnesses as examples, Becerra noted that EMTALA “protects your clinical judgement and the action that you take to offer stable medical therapy to your pregnant patients.”

Additionally, he mentioned any “stabilising treatment” that might be required in these circumstances. The abortion was among them.

“Therefore, if a physician determines that an abortion is the stabilisation treatment necessary to resolve that condition in a pregnant patient presenting at an emergency department, including some labour and delivery departments, the physician shall offer that treatment,” the letter states.

And where a state law forbids abortion but does not make an exception for the pregnant person’s life and health or defines the exception more stringently than EMTALA’s definition of an emergency medical situation, that state law is preempted.

The letter came after President Joe Biden issued an executive order instructing Becerra to determine what needs to be done to guarantee that patients, including “pregnant women and those experiencing pregnancy loss,” get the “full protections for emergency medical care guaranteed by law.”

Catholic healthcare handles two patients with every pregnancy, according to Hilliard, a canon lawyer and ethicist with a master’s degree in maternal-child health nursing.

According to her, “Catholic health care agencies and clinicians have managed these identical maternal and infant health crises in accordance with EMTALA law and best practices over the decades, while honouring the health and dignity of both.”

To their pregnant patients, “they continuously ‘give stable medical therapy’.”

She asserted that abortion is not essential.

She said, “Treating a pathology of the mother does not need an attack on the unborn kid directly.”

These diagnostic and procedural codes, which are utilised for reimbursement even for federal financing, are actually different from those that signify a direct abortion.

Hilliard found a number of issues with the letter. She referred to it as being incompatible with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services issued by the U.S. Catholic bishops, among other things.

The instructions emphasise that Catholic medical facilities may not perform or assist in performing abortion operations.

When such activities are not required, the HHS letter “admonishes a practitioner to violate hospital policy,” according to Hilliard.

She argued that Catholic healthcare already complies with the law.

According to her, the CMS memo “speaks to the need to preserve the ‘life and health of the pregnant person,’ which is consistent with current federal law and which Catholic providers are also committed to protecting.”

She objected to the HHS letter because it omitted the term “health.” While EMTALA itself is precise in its definition, the letter merely provides examples of “emergency medical conditions,” she claimed.

It also makes mention of the unborn.

According to Hilliard, the EMTALA defines a “emergency medical condition” as “a condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) that the individual’s health [or the health of an unborn child] could reasonably be expected to be placed in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of bodily organs”.

Hilliard cautioned that the missing definition in the HHS letter “is deceptive, especially considering the language in Doe v. Bolton.”

Doe v. Bolton, which was decided on the same day as Roe v. Wade, broadened the definition of “may relate to health” in terms of a woman getting an abortion to include “all aspects – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the patient’s wellness.”

When Doe v. Bolton and Roe were combined, Hilliard argued, “they opened the door to all abortions, medically necessary or not, dependent on how the doctor and mother interpreted ‘health’.”

It turned into a flexible standard that, in this instance, would require the Catholic hospital to permit all abortions on demand.

excessive concerns

In an effort to overturn the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Hilliard charged the administration of overreaching. Each state’s abortion laws will be governed by the verdict.

According to Hilliard, “The Dobbs judgement is crystal clear that the federal government has no role in mandating or regulating abortion.”

However, in spite of this, the federal government has threatened to fine providers for abiding by state law.

Texas is retaliating, at least in part.

Texas complained about the HHS, CMS, and their leadership on July 14 for their guidance on the EMTALA.

As a “unconstitutional use of authority” that “must be ruled unlawful and set aside,” the state denounced the “Abortion Mandate.”

The Biden administration was charged of trying to “exploit federal legislation to transform every emergency department in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic,” according to Texas.

The complaint states that the federal government has never been permitted to compel healthcare professionals to perform abortions.

“Defendants use the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) as the foundation for their Abortion Mandate.

Texas claims, among other things, that the new guidance is in violation of the Weldon and Hyde amendments, which forbid federal agencies from discriminating against health care providers “on the basis that the health care provider does not provide, pay for, provide coverage for, or refer for abortions,” and the Hyde amendment, which forbids federal funds from funding abortions other than in cases of rape, incest, or the woman’s life.

The complaint claims that “no federal provision grants a right to abortion.” “EMTALA is no exception. It does not ensure that women may obtain abortions.

EMTALA, on the other hand, considers a medical emergency to be one that poses a risk to the unborn child’s life. It is clear that an unborn child’s life or health is not preserved through abortion.