EXPLAINER: Does health care law protect emergency abortion?

The Biden administration has filed its first legal challenge to a state abortion ban since the end of Roe v. Wade, arguing Idaho’s restrictive abortion law leaves doctors facing criminal penalties for providing abortion-related medical care to women in life-threatening medical situations.

The Justice Department may have a strong argument in the Idaho case filed under federal health care law, but even if they win it wouldn’t allow full access to abortion there, legal experts said. It could, though, give doctors more latitude to provide an abortion in an emergency or a situation that could become one.

But Texas is already pushing back with another lawsuit over the same federal statute, arguing federal health-care law doesn’t allow for abortion-related care banned under state law.

Here’s a look at how the dueling cases could affect the fraught medical and legal landscape after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion:

WHAT DOES THE FEDERAL LAW SAY?

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, went into effect in 1986 and was aimed at making sure people could get emergency care regardless of their ability to pay. It’s been at the center of court battles before.

In the 1992 case of “Baby K,” for example, a court sided with parents who said the federal law required a hospital to keep treating a baby born without a cerebral cortex, even though doctors said it would be medically futile and cited a state law in support, said Lindsay Wiley, a law professor and director of the Health Law and Policy Program at UCLA Law.

Hospitals that violate the emergency treatment act could lose access to payments from Medicare, a major blow.

The Idaho lawsuit comes after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued similar guidance, saying hospitals must provide abortion services in emergencies or situations that could become emergencies.

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DON’T ABORTION LAWS ALREADY HAVE HEALTH EXCEPTIONS?

Many abortion bans, including the law set to go into effect in Idaho, are written to allow abortions if a pregnant person’s life is at risk. But they don’t always say exactly what that means, and some doctors say the laws are so vague that it’s hard to know when the exceptions apply. Notably, Idaho’s exception is written so that it can only be used as a defense in a criminal trial, after the doctor has been charged.

The deep uncertainty and possible criminal charges against doctors have already had profound repercussions in reproductive medicine and other areas of medical care.

“The risk of criminal prosecution is one of the most extreme, most heavy handed things that law can do. It has a huge chilling effect,” Wiley said. “It’s not surprising that clinicians, if they were only focusing on state law, would be very hesitant to do what they’ve always done to provide standard of care.”

The federal emergency-medical treatment act, by contrast, has a wider definition of emergency care and stabilization, as well as a specific set of rules and policies developed over three …read more

Source:: Headlines News4jax

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