The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Monday that healthcare providers who perform abortions in emergency situations are protected under federal law regardless of bans that are in place in their states.
"Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care. Today, in no uncertain terms, we are reinforcing that we expect providers to continue offering these services," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
The new guidance comes days after President Joe Biden signed an executive order easing access to services to terminate pregnancies after the U.S. top court's decision last month to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling.
On Sunday, Biden said he had asked his administration to consider whether he has authority to declare an abortion-related public health emergency.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday declaring a public health emergency would not necessarily free up resources, citing the experience of heavy federal spending for the government's response to COVID-19 and monkey pox.
"It also doesn't release a significant amount of legal authority," Jean-Pierre told reporters. "And so that's why we haven't taken that action yet."
Still, she added: "Everything is on the table."
The White House has been under pressure from Biden's own party to take action after the landmark decision last month. Protecting abortion rights is a top issue for women Democrats, Reuters polling shows, and more than 70% of Americans think the issue should be left to a woman and her doctor.
The new guidance from HHS released on Monday said the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) protects providers when offering legally-mandated, life- or health-saving abortion services in emergency situations.
EMTALA requires that Medicare hospitals provide all patients an appropriate medical screening, examination, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary, irrespective of any state laws or mandates that apply to specific procedures.
In a separate letter to providers, Becerra said the statute protects their clinical judgment and the action they take to provide stabilizing medical treatment to pregnant patients, regardless of the restrictions in the state where they practice.
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