WASHINGTON (NEWSnet/AP) — The Biden administration sent a letter Tuesday informing emergency room doctors they must perform emergency abortions when necessary to save a pregnant woman’s health.

The notification was in the aftermath of last week’s Supreme Court ruling that failed to settle a legal dispute where state abortion bans conflict with a federal law requiring hospitals to provide stabilizing treatment.

“No pregnant woman or her family should have to even begin to worry that she could be denied the treatment she needs to stabilize her emergency medical condition in the emergency room,” the letter said.

It continued, “And yet, we have heard story after story describing the experiences of pregnant women presenting to hospital emergency departments with emergency medical conditions and being turned away because medical providers were uncertain about what treatment they were permitted to provide.”

The letter was sent on behalf of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

In the meantime, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will resume investigations into complaints against emergency rooms in Idaho, despite the state’s abortion ban.

But enforcement in Texas, the country’s most populous state with a strict six-week abortion ban, will still be on hold because of a lower court ruling.

The letter is the Biden administration’s latest attempt to raise awareness about a 40-year-old federal law that requires almost all emergency rooms — any that receive Medicare dollars — to provide stabilizing treatment for patients in a medical emergency. When hospitals turn away patients or refuse to provide that care, they are subject to federal investigations, hefty fines and loss of Medicare funding.

The authority invoked is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA.

The emergency department is the last place that the White House has argued it can federally require what is normally rare emergency abortions to be performed, despite strict state abortion bans.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, and U.S. women lost the federal right to an abortion, HHS quickly sent letters to doctors, saying that they were required to provide abortions in emergency medical situations when they were needed to keep a woman medically stable.

In Idaho, enforcement of the federal law in emergency abortion cases had been on hold since January, when the state’s strict abortion ban took effect. Idaho’s state law threatens doctors with prison sentences if they perform an abortion, with an exception only if a pregnant woman’s life, not her health, is at risk.

About 50,000 women every year develop serious pregnancy complications, like blood loss, sepsis or organ loss. Some of those women may show up in emergency rooms and in the most serious cases where a fetus is unlikely to be viable, doctors may recommend a termination of the pregnancy.

HHS has also sought in recent months to make it easier for any patient who is turned away or not appropriately transferred to file complaints against hospitals. Earlier this year, CMS unveiled a new web page that allows anyone to submit a complaint in a straightforward, three-step process.

The complaint webpage will also be available in Spanish, starting today.

“We will continue to build on our recent actions to educate the public about their rights to emergency medical care and to help support efforts of hospitals and health care professionals to meet their obligations under EMTALA,” the letter said.

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