CMS Investigates Two Hospitals Who Refused Woman an Abortion

By A.J. Plunkett

Two hospitals who refused to provide abortion services to a woman who was 17 weeks pregnant but faced life-threatening conditions after her amniotic fluid had drained are under investigation by CMS, according to a statement by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra.

According to news reports, the woman was told by doctors at the hospitals in Kansas and Missouri that she faced sepsis and possible loss of her uterus but could not get an abortion in either state because of recently passed laws.

The hospitals are under investigation for not offering “necessary stabilizing care to an individual experiencing an emergency medical condition, in violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA),” according to the statement.

“As we have made explicitly clear: we will use the full extent of our legal authority, consistent with orders from the courts, to enforce protections for individuals who seek emergency care—including when that care is an abortion,” said Becerra. “During her visits to two different hospitals, the patient was not offered the care that her doctors determined was necessary to stabilize those emergency medical conditions—not because of the clinical judgment of her providers, but because the hospital policies would not allow an abortion to be performed.”

The patient received care at a hospital in Illinois.

“Today, we send a reminder to hospitals participating in Medicare: you are obligated under EMTALA to offer stabilizing care to patients who need emergency care, and we will not hesitate to enforce your obligations under the law.”

ECRI, a patient safety organization, said earlier this year that stricter abortion laws were creating clinician uncertainty surrounding maternal-fetal medicine, which it ranked as the third most dangerous patient safety concern for 2023.

Since the Supreme Court overturned the long-standing Roe v. Wade decision legalizing most abortions, CMS and others have issued warnings to hospitals about EMTALA enforcement, but hospitals have struggled with how to do so.

Concerns have also raised questions about law enforcement investigations into abortion care and how to balance EMTALA and patient information privacy.