Today, the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives brought to the floor H.R. 358, a bill to restrict women's ability to get insurance coverage for abortion coverage. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. But what might surprise even the most jaded among us is a provision in the bill that would actually allow a hospital to refuse care to a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.
H.R. 358 creates a loophole which would allow hospitals to circumvent the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), a law that has saved many lives. EMTALA was established to ensure that when a patient arrives at a hospital in critical condition -- particularly women in labor -- the patient will be stabilized, regardless of her ability to pay.
EMTALA is truly the embodiment of the Hippocratic Oath to "apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required." This law has been on the books for over 25 years--and it works.
However, H.R. 358 carves a radical and uncalled for loophole into this law. It would allow providers to refuse emergency care for women even if their lives are endangered by their pregnancy. Incredibly, the hospital could even refuse to give a referral.
As wonderful an event as pregnancy so often is, unfortunately there are some tragic complications that can occur for which a therapeutic abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.
I'm talking about conditions like severe preeclampsia, where a pregnant woman's rapid rise in blood pressure can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and her death. Pulmonary hypertension, a condition that American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association's joint guidelines explicitly states necessitates the termination of a pregnancy to avoid maternal death, is another deadly threat.
If you've never heard of these conditions it might be easy to think they are not significant issues. But to the women whose lives are saved by these emergency abortion services -- oftentimes mothers who very much want their pregnancy to be successful -- this issue is more than politics. It's literally life or death.
What if your wife or daughter was rushed to the hospital, pregnant with severe bleeding? You don't research or compare the policies of your local hospitals. You go to the one that is closest -- the one you trust will save your loved one. But if a diagnosis is made and an emergency abortion is necessary to save her life, what would you do if the hospital refuses to perform it, stabilize her, or even provide a referral for care elsewhere?
Thanks to the protections provided by EMTALA, that's a question you won't face today.
But if H.R. 358 becomes law it very well could be.
That's why I offered the only Democratic amendment to the bill -- an amendment to ensure that no hospital or health care provider can be exempted from EMTALA when a pregnant woman presents with an emergency medical condition.
Unfortunately, my amendment was defeated -- in a party line vote.
We've always had tough and searing debates about a woman's right to choose. Choice is an issue which elicits strongly held views on both sides of the debate. And I respect that.
But we should all be able to agree that when a pregnant woman is in a medical emergency we should do all we can to save her. No pregnant woman -- or her family -- should be afraid that she will be denied the care she needs when she goes to a hospital.
For a variety of reasons, H.R. 358 is an extreme attack on women's rights. This just happens to be one of the worst.