HHS guidance on abortions offers 'relief' for health care providers in Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The latest effort by the Biden administration to protect abortion access is offering some clarity for health care providers in Wisconsin who face some confusion as the legal battle over the state's 1849 abortion law continues.
This week, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra sent a letter to health care providers offering guidance for emergency care for pregnant patients with regards to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act -- or EMTALA.
"The federal EMTALA statute protects your clinical judgment and the action that you take to provide stabilizing medical treatment to your pregnant patients, regardless of the restrictions in the state where you practice," Becerra writes in the letter.
That stabilizing treatment includes abortions if the life of the mother is at risk, Becerra writes.
"If 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," the letter states.
That includes states where there is no exception to save the life of the mother.
Wisconsin is in the middle of a legal battle over an 1849 law which bans abortions in most cases with the exception of saving the life of the mother. But the law written in the 19th century is providing confusion over what is and is not legally protected for health care providers.
The new guidance from HHS is helpful, says Dr. Kristin Lyerly, an OB-GYN in Green Bay.
"This EMTALA information that we received is such a relief," Dr. Lyerly said in an interview.
Lyerly added providers can feel more confident and protected legally when faced with a pregnant patient with a medical emergency.
"To know the federal government has our back, and that we don't have to seek out teams of lawyers to help us determine at what point the life of the mother is in danger but we can use our clinical judgement to do that, that's incredibly valuable," Dr. Lyerly told CBS 58.
EMTALA is enforced through a complaint process. Providers in violation of it could lose their Medicare provider agreement and/or face fines.