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HHS guidance says life-saving emergency abortions remain legal nationwide

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra emphasized Monday that federal law preempt state abortion measures in cases where a mother's life is in danger. File Photo by Ron Sachs/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/a96d92aad8d1544b54c3ca4858d9e611/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra emphasized Monday that federal law preempt state abortion measures in cases where a mother's life is in danger. File Photo by Ron Sachs/UPI | License Photo

July 11 (UPI) -- U.S. health officials issued new guidance Monday specifying that doctors who perform abortions in emergency situations are protected under federal law regardless of state bans.

The Department of Health and Human Services made clear in its updated guidance that "legally-mandated, life- or health-saving abortion services in emergency situations" are allowed nationwide under the provisions of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

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The guidance comes on the heels of President Joe Biden's executive order on reproductive health issued Friday and is aimed at erasing any doubt that saving mothers' lives in emergencies remains protected across the country despite the patchwork of abortion bans and restrictions adopted by some states since the overturn of the Roe vs. Wade decision.

It also lays out what qualifies as an "emergency" under a state ban.

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In an accompanying letter to health providers, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the federal statute "protects your clinical judgment and the action that you take to provide stabilizing medical treatment to your pregnant patients, regardless of the restrictions in the state where you practice."

Based on doctors' judgement, he said, such emergency situations may include ectopic pregnancy, complications of pregnancy loss, or emergent hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia with severe features.

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"Any state laws or mandates that employ a more restrictive definition of an emergency medical condition are preempted by the EMTALA statute," Becerra wrote.

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In an issued statement, the health secretary said, "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, and that federal law preempts state abortion bans when needed for emergency care."

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