Attorney General James Leads Coalition to Protect Patients’ Access to Emergency Abortion Care
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today co-led a multistate coalition in a legal fight to protect Americans’ access to abortion care during life-threatening medical emergencies. In an amicus brief filed in Texas v. Becerra, the coalition of 22 attorneys general supported the Biden Administration’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s defense of its Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) guidance, which directs hospitals to provide emergency abortion care in appropriate circumstances. In July 2022, Texas filed a lawsuit challenging the EMTALA guidance, and in August 2022, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas enjoined the guidance from being enforced in Texas. The coalition of attorneys general noted that the district court ruling, if allowed to stand, would not only endanger patients in Texas, but would also have serious repercussions on the health systems of other states.
“Denying critical care to patients during emergency situations is dangerous and inhumane,” said Attorney General James. “Politics should not interfere with medical care delivered in emergency rooms for patients in need. Abortion care is health care and we will continue to fight to ensure that all patients have access to quality reproductive health care.”
Every hospital in the United States that operates an emergency department and participates in Medicare is subject to EMTALA. Under the law, emergency rooms are required to provide all patients who have an emergency medical condition with the treatment required to stabilize the condition. In June 2022, the federal government issued guidance restating hospitals’ obligation to provide abortion services when needed to stabilize a patient experiencing an emergency medical condition.
The district court’s ruling blocking the application of the EMTALA guidance in Texas has put multiple patients’ lives at risk by plunging providers into a climate of uncertainty and fear about the legal and criminal repercussions they may face for performing abortions on patients in emergency situations.
On March 10, 2023, the federal government filed an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, asking it to reverse the Texas district court’s ruling regarding the EMTALA guidance. In their brief, the coalition of states wrote in support of the federal government’s appeal arguing that:
• For decades, EMTALA has been interpreted to require the treatment of pregnancy-related conditions that need emergency abortion care, and states have relied on that determination to protect their residents’ health and safety;
• Prohibiting hospitals from providing emergency abortions causes serious harm to pregnant patients and puts their lives in jeopardy; and
• When Texas hospitals and providers do not provide the emergency abortion care required by EMTALA, patients are forced to turn to out-of-state hospitals and doctors, adding strain to other states’ emergency departments that are already struggling with overcrowding, long wait times, and staff shortages. The added strain will cause more delays and threaten the safety and health of all patients who need emergency care.
Joining Attorney General James and California Attorney General Rob Bonta in filing today’s amicus brief are the attorneys general of Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.