Two hospitals may have violated federal law by denying a woman an emergency abortion, health officials say.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has officially launched an investigation into two hospitals accused of denying Mylissa Farmer, 41, the lifesaving procedure last November, months after Roe v Wade was overturned.
Ms Farmer was twice denied an emergency abortion in her home states of Missouri and Kansas after her waters broke when she was 18 weeks pregnant and she was told the fetus was no longer viable. Doctors said they could not treat her to prevent infection, bleeding and possible death because a fetal heartbeat could still be detected.
Health care providers are trying to navigate the hodgepodge of state termination laws that have sprung up after the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe, which had been a constitutional right to abortion for nearly half a century.
Abortion is illegal in Missouri except to save the pregnant woman’s life or prevent serious health consequences.
Mylissa Farmer talks to the news leader on September 28, 2022 at her home in Joplin, Missouri
More than a dozen states have restricted access to abortions after the overthrow of Roe V Wade
In Kansas, abortions are generally allowed up to 22 weeks, but abortion advocates feel there is widespread confusion and fear among physicians about providing abortion care.
HHS would not reveal which hospitals were under investigation, but the NWLC said it filed the original complaint against Freeman Health System in Joplin, Missouri, and the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas.
Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services previously confirmed they were investigating Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, Missouri, over the claims.
HHS did not say whether it would take action against the hospitals.
If the hospitals are found guilty, they or their Medicare Provider Agreement could be terminated.
Hospitals can also be fined up to $100,000 per violation. They may also be liable for civil lawsuits brought by patients.
It is HHS’s first investigation into violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) — passed by Congress in 1986 to ensure public access to emergency services — for hospitals that do not provide abortions.
After Roe v Wade was overturned, the White House told hospitals and doctors to offer abortions in the event of a medical emergency or if the patient’s health or life is in danger, even if doing so would violate state law .
But in practice, critics argue that doctors are hesitant to provide abortions and have differing opinions on what constitutes a medical emergency.
A study published last week along with commentary in The Lancet found that hospitals in Oklahoma are finding it difficult to interpret the laws and enact policies that comply with them.
In some states, doctors are threatened with criminal or civil penalties for performing abortions.
HHS wouldn’t reveal which hospitals were under investigation, but the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) said it filed the original complaint against Freeman Health System in Joplin, Missouri, and the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas
In early August, Mrs. Farmer had to travel to Illinois to terminate her pregnancy when her water broke at 17 weeks and five days, putting her life in danger
The government can investigate hospitals that receive federal funding for breaking the law.
Mylissa Farmer, from Missouri, was 18 weeks pregnant in November 2022 when her water broke. She lost all her amniotic fluid and was told by doctors that the fetus would not make it.
But she was denied an emergency abortion because they could still detect fetal heartbeat activity.
Abortion is illegal in Missouri except to save the pregnant woman’s life or prevent serious health consequences. In Kansas, abortions are generally allowed up to 22 weeks.
About 15 states have banned abortion, including Georgia, which bans the procedure at six weeks of pregnancy.
Ms. Farmer was forced to go to an Illinois abortion clinic for emergency treatment.
The complaint, filed by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), claimed: ‘This was a medical emergency, which put her at risk of serious blood loss, sepsis or death. But she was denied the emergency care she needed.”
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a rack: ‘Fortunately, this patient survived. But she should never have gone through the terrifying ordeal she went through in the first place.
“We want them, and every patient like them, to know that we will do everything we can to protect their life and health, and to investigate and enforce the law to the fullest extent of our legal authority, in accordance with the orders of the courts.’
The statement read: “During her visits to two different hospitals, the patient was not provided with the care her physicians deemed necessary to stabilize that urgent medical condition — not because of the clinical judgment of her health care providers, but because hospital policy would not. allow an abortion to be performed.
“This was a violation of EMTALA protections designed to protect patients like her.”
Ms. Becerra sent a letter Monday to hospitals and supplier associations across America informing them of the probes and reminding them of their duty under federal law to provide abortions under certain circumstances.
Last year, a Texas federal judge stopped HHS from enforcing its guidelines in the state.