WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday announced several actions to protect reproductive rights in Texas following the passage of a bill banning all abortions in the state after 6 weeks of gestation.
“Every American deserves access to health care, wherever they live, including access to safe and legal abortions,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a press release. “HHS is taking action to support and protect patients and providers from this dangerous attack on Texans’ health care. Today, we are clarifying that physicians and hospitals have an obligation under federal law , to make medical decisions about when to treat their patients. . And we say to doctors and others involved in providing abortion care that we have your back.”
The law known as Senate Bill (SB) 8, which took effect on September 1, does not provide any exceptions for rape or incest, but does include an exception for medical emergencies. The law also allows private citizens to sue healthcare workers, family members or friends who help a patient to have an illegal abortion, with the possibility of receiving statutory compensation of at least $10,000 if the prosecution succeeds.
When the law went into effect, the White House issued a statement calling it “extreme” and adding that it “flagrantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe vs. Wade and maintained as precedent for nearly half a century. The Texas law will significantly impede women’s access to the health care they need, especially for communities of color and low-income people.”
Friday’s actions by HHS include:
Increased support for Title X grants. Recipients of the Title X program, which provides federal funding for family planning services, received nearly $19 million last week; now, HHS is providing additional funding to Every Body Texas, a current Title X family planning recipient, “to meet projected increases in client needs for emergency contraception and family planning services” , HHS said in the statement.
Additionally, the agency “plans to award up to $10 million in grants to expand access to emergency contraception and family planning services to any eligible applicant for Title X services who can demonstrate a need.” resulting from an influx of customers following SB 8 as well as states across the country with increased needs overall.”
Publication of guidance on the application of non-discrimination rules. The statement notes that the Church’s amendment, often cited by the Trump administration, protects healthcare workers from employment discrimination if they oppose abortion, sterilization or activities biomedical personnel because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions, but “this law also protects healthcare personnel from employment-related discrimination because they have performed or assisted in a legal abortion”; the agency therefore published guidelines outlining protections for these workers as well.
Remind health care providers of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) and Medicare eligibility requirements. The EMTALA statute requires that all patients receive appropriate medical examination, stabilization treatment, and referral, regardless of state laws or mandates that apply to specific procedures; To remind providers of these rules, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a notice to providers reinforcing the EMTALA and legal obligations “specific to pregnant patients or patients experiencing pregnancy loss,” according to the statement.
“A physician’s professional and legal obligation to provide medical treatment to a patient who presents to the emergency department and is found to have an emergency medical condition prevails over any law or regulatory mandate. ‘State directly in conflict that may seek to prevent such treatment,’ HHS noted. “Civil monetary penalties may be imposed on hospitals or individual physicians for violations of the EMTALA. In addition, physicians may also be barred from Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
Texas abortion providers filed a lawsuit in July to block the law from going into effect. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit then canceled a scheduled hearing on a preliminary injunction; abortion providers filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court, urging judges to intervene; they declined to do so in a 5-4 vote.
Last week, the Justice Department sued the state of Texas over the law, with Attorney General Merrick Garland saying in a statement that the law was “clearly unconstitutional.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, seeks “a declaratory judgment that SB 8 is invalid under the Supremacy Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, is preempted by federal law, and violates doctrine intergovernmental immunity”. noted the Department of Justice.
The lawsuit also seeks to permanently ban the state from implementing or enforcing the law.