New Republican Bill Allows Hospital ERs to Turn Away Women Who Need Immediate Abortions to Save Their Lives

Evan McMorris-Santoro has a write-up on congressional Republicans’ latest attempt to place the lives of fetuses above the lives of women (emphasis is mine):

The controversy over “forcible rape” may be over, but now there’s a new Republican-sponsored abortion bill in the House that pro-choice folks say may be worse: this time around, the new language would allow hospitals to let a pregnant woman die rather than perform the abortion that would save her life.

The bill, known currently as H.R. 358 or the “Protect Life Act,” would amend the 2010 health care reform law that would modify the way Obamacare deals with abortion coverage. Much of its language is modeled on the so-called Stupak Amendment, an anti-abortion provision pro-life Democrats attempted to insert into the reform law during the health care debate last year. But critics say a new language inserted into the bill just this week would go far beyond Stupak, allowing hospitals that receive federal funds but are opposed to abortions to turn away women in need of emergency pregnancy termination to save their lives.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) claims that the bill is only “affirming” current law that allows doctors and hospital to refuse to perform abortions without losing federal funding, but he is being disingenuous, because this proposed legislation goes beyond current conscience protection law in significant ways (emphasis is mine):

A bit of backstory: currently, all hospitals in America that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are bound by a 1986 law known as EMTALA to provide emergency care to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay or other factors. Hospitals do not have to provide free care to everyone that arrives at their doorstep under EMTALA — but they do have to stabilize them and provide them with emergency care without factoring in their ability to pay for it or not. If a hospital can’t provide the care a patient needs, it is required to transfer that patient to a hospital that can, and the receiving hospital is required to accept that patient.

In the case of an anti-abortion hospital with a patient requiring an emergency abortion, ETMALA would require that hospital to perform it or transfer the patient to someone who can. (The nature of how that procedure works exactly is up in the air, with the ACLU calling on the federal government to state clearly that unwillingness to perform an abortion doesn’t qualify as inability under EMTALA. That argument is ongoing, and the government has yet to weigh in.)

Pitts’ new bill would free hospitals from any abortion requirement under EMTALA, meaning that medical providers who aren’t willing to terminate pregnancies wouldn’t have to — nor would they have to facilitate a transfer.

The hospital could literally do nothing at all, pro-choice critics of Pitts’ bill say.

Current abortion funding law under Medicaid includes an exception for the mother’s life and/or health, and in cases of rape or incest. (That’s what the new “forcible rape” only provision that House Republicans proposed and then hastily withdrew after a storm of protest was all about.) This new legislation would eliminate those required exceptions in long-standing conscience protections for individual doctors as well as entire hospitals, without fear of losing federal funding — although hospitals would stand to lose federal funding if abortions were performed at anti-abortion hospitals in defiance of the law.

Jodi Jacobson of Reproductive Health Reality Check summarizes the bill’s major provisions, provides a complete list of the bill’s co-sponsors, and pastes the entire text of the bill (an earlier version; the legislation was updated late Friday and the revised bill was not yet online at the time that Jodi published her piece). The comments thread to Jodi’s post is also extremely informative and illuminating.

More commentary at Memeorandum.

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Author: KATHY KATTENBURG