The federal government has begun its first confirmed investigation into an alleged refusal to carry out an abortion on a woman in medical anguish. Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for Missouri Health and Senior Services, made the announcement in October that the agency had opened an investigation into Mylissa Farmer’s treatment at Freeman Health System in southern Missouri
In July, the Biden administration reminded hospitals and doctors in the 13 states that have outlawed most abortions that federal law necessitates them to provide life-saving medical services, including abortion if needed, to patients who are experiencing emergency pregnancy complications.
The Federal Government Launched An Investigation Into The Missouri Hospital
The Missouri inquiry is significant because EMTALA is one of the government’s most powerful tools for ensuring that individuals with pregnancy complications obtain required abortion services in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June decision erasing the constitutional right to abortion. In an emergency, the EMTALA law of 1986 necessitates both hospitals and doctors to provide screening and stabilizing care.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued policy direction in July emphasizing that EMTALA supersedes any state law preventing abortion and that hospitals and physicians who do not comply with the government mandate could face legal fines and termination from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Mylissa Farmer, a Joplin resident, informed The Associated Press that her water had broken months before, on August 2nd, and she had gone to the system’s local emergency department. Physicians there supposedly informed Farmer to terminate the pregnancy because it was not viable, she had lost amniotic fluid, and she faced a serious infection risk.
They also advised Mylissa that “waiting for a medical emergency may increase her probability of maternal mortality” or uterus removal. They couldn’t terminate her pregnancy in Missouri because her fetus still had a heart beating and her situation wasn’t a life-threatening medical emergency at the time.
In the end, she had an abortion in Illinois. Farmer criticized Missouri’s abortion ban in a campaign ad for Democratic U.S. Trudy Busch Valentine is a Senate candidate running against Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Missouri’s abortion ban includes exceptions for emergency situations, though doctors and hospitals are unsure what these are. According to hospital spokeswoman Liz Syer, it is standard procedure not to comment on patient care. On Monday, she did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the inquiry. Her case is detailed in Oct.
19 articles in the Springfield News-Leader, which Farmer confirmed in a brief interview with KHN was accurate. Farmer confirmed that she was contacted and questioned for the EMTALA investigation in October.
“They basically told me to leave the state in order to get the care I needed,” the 41-year-old told the Associated Press. Doctors told Farmer during that visit that the law takes precedence over their medical judgment and that “contrary to the most appropriate management based (on) my medical opinion, we are not able to offer induction of labor at this time due to the legal language of MO law.”
Farmer and her boyfriend, who both wanted a child, called several hospitals in Kansas and Illinois to see if she could deliver safely but were repeatedly told that the pregnancy was unviable and that her health was jeopardized.
She eventually was scheduled at the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, where she went into labor and had the pregnancy terminated on August 6. Officials at Freeman Hospital did not respond to repeated inquiries for information.
As per Sara Rosenbaum, a University of George Washington professor of health policy and policy, cases like Farmer’s are most likely to occur on a regular basis in states that have banned abortion services, and more EMTALA investigations would be launched. This puts hospitals and doctors in a tough spot, she adds. CMS has stated that it will launch investigations based on factual evidence, such as news reports.