abortion rights activist

An abortion rights activist holds a sign reading, "Our blood will be on your hands," after the Indiana House of Representatives voted to ban abortion on August 5, 2022.

(Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Complaints of Pregnant Patients Denied Emergency Care Surged After Dobbs

"MAGA abortion bans deny women lifesaving care," one critic said in response to reporting on patient stories.

New reporting from The Associated Press that complaints of pregnant patients turned away from emergency departments "spiked" after the reversal of Roe v. Wade sparked fresh condemnation of efforts to restrict abortion rights on Friday.

Since the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court ended nearly half a century of nationwide abortion rights with Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization in June 2022, over 20 states have enacted new restrictions on reproductive healthcare, creating a culture of confusion and fear at many medical facilities.

Early last year, the AP submitted a public records request for 2022 complaints filed under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law that requires hospitals and emergency departments that accept Medicare to provide screenings to patients who request them and prohibits refusing to treat individuals with an emergency medical condition.

"This is the reality that extreme Republicans call 'pro-life.'"

"One year after submitting the request, the federal government agreed to release only some complaints and investigative documents filed across just 19 states," the AP's Amanda Seitz reported. "The names of patients, doctors, and medical staff were redacted from the documents."

"One woman miscarried in the lobby restroom of a Texas emergency room as front desk staff refused to admit her," the journalist detailed. "Another woman learned that her fetus had no heartbeat at a Florida hospital, the day after a security guard turned her away from the facility. And in North Carolina, a woman gave birth in a car after an emergency room couldn't offer an ultrasound. The baby later died."

According to Seitz:

Emergency rooms are subject to hefty fines when they turn away patients, fail to stabilize them, or transfer them to another hospital for treatment. Violations can also put hospitals' Medicare funding at risk.

But it's unclear what fines might be imposed on more than a dozen hospitals that the Biden administration says failed to properly treat pregnant patients in 2022.

It can take years for fines to be levied in these cases. The Health and Human Services agency, which enforces the law, declined to share if the hospitals have been referred to the agency's Office of Inspector General for penalties.

Responding to the reporting on social media, journalist Jane Mayer declared, "This is barbaric."

Texas Poor People's Campaign said that women in the state "are being left to die in ER waiting rooms. We cannot let this policy violence against women continue. Please join us as we mobilize voters for the '24 election."

Going into November, abortion has been a key issue at the state and federal level. Supporters of reproductive freedom are working to advance various ballot measures while Democratic President Joe Biden's campaign has highlighted his support for abortion rights and the presumptive Republican nominee, former President Donald Trump, has bragged about his role in reversing Roe—he appointed three of the six justices behind the majority opinion.

"MAGA abortion bans deny women lifesaving care," stressed Alex Wall, senior vice president for digital advocacy at the Center for American Progress. Citing examples from Texas and Florida in the AP report, he reiterated, "MAGA Republicans did this."

Congresswoman Becca Balint (D-Vt.) said that "this is the reality that extreme Republicans call 'pro-life'—pregnant women being turned away at hospitals and emergency centers. Absolutely disgraceful. No woman should ever be denied emergency care."

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, who covers U.S. legal battles, noted that this "devastating and timely story" from Seitz comes "just days before the Supreme Court considers whether emergency rooms can legally force patients to the brink of death before terminating a failing pregnancy."

The high court is set to hear arguments in that case Wednesday. The Biden administration is challenging Idaho's near-total ban on abortion, which "would make it a criminal offense for doctors to comply with EMTALA's requirement to provide stabilizing treatment, even where a doctor determines that abortion is the medical treatment necessary to prevent a patient from suffering severe health risks or even death," as the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit explains.

The Justice Department is seeking a judgment that Idaho's law is invalid under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution and "is preempted by federal law to the extent that it conflicts with EMTALA."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.