Legal actions seek to guarantee access to abortion for patients in medical emergencies | ET REALITY


Early in her pregnancy, Jaci Statton was in the kitchen when she felt like she was going to faint and saw that her jeans were soaked in blood. Doctors told her the pregnancy was not viable and could be life-threatening if she did not have an abortion soon, he said.

But Statton lives in Oklahoma, a state that bans most abortions. Three hospitals refused to perform the procedure, she said. In the third, “they said, ‘We can’t touch you unless you crash in front of us,’” Statton, 26, said in an interview. The hospital’s only suggestion, he said, was “we should wait in the parking lot until he was about to die.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Statton filed a legal complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services claiming that the third institution, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, had violated a federal law requiring hospitals with emergency departments to perform abortions in urgent situations, regardless of the state. restrictions on abortion.

Her case is part of several legal challenges filed Tuesday involving patients and doctors in three states (Idaho, Tennessee and Oklahoma) who claim that abortion bans in those states prevent women with serious pregnancy complications from getting abortions, even in cases where medical necessity is clear.

The cases, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy organization, represent an expansion of legal strategies that abortion rights groups have initiated in recent months, following last year’s Supreme Court decision. that annulled the national right to abortion.

Jaci Statton and her husband, Dennis, before her pregnancy.Credit…Rachel Meagan Photography

With 14 states to date enacting laws banning most abortions, some abortion rights groups are focusing on cases involving patients with wanted pregnancies who developed serious complications or abnormalities. The cases do not seek to overturn the bans, but rather to obtain legal clarity that ensures that patients in these situations are exempt from state abortion bans.

The groups argue that the vague wording of the laws and widespread confusion and fear among doctors that they could be prosecuted or penalized has resulted in the denial of care, with sometimes dire consequences for the health of patients or their health. ability to get pregnant in the future.

Officials from two anti-abortion groups said state abortion bans already allowed exceptions in life-threatening emergencies and that abortion rights advocates were trying to sow confusion. Dr. Ingrid Skop, vice president and director of medical affairs at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, said that while she has never performed elective abortions, “there have been times when I have needed to separate a mother from her unborn child to preserve her life in an emergency.” “

A legal strategy, launched earlier this year with a lawsuit filed against the state of Texas on behalf of patients and doctors, seeks to clarify the state’s restrictions on abortion to allow doctors to terminate pregnancies of patients with medical emergencies or serious fetal abnormalities. The lawsuits filed Tuesday against Tennessee and Idaho reflect that approach.

Another strategy, invoked in the Statton case, calls on the federal government to investigate hospitals that have denied abortions to patients with medical emergencies in states with abortion bans.

This spring, in a unique action of its kind, the federal government told a hospital in Missouri and another in Kansas that they had violated federal law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, when they denied an abortion to a woman whose water broke at 17 weeks of pregnancy . That law requires hospitals that receive Medicare funding and have emergency rooms to provide treatment, including abortions, if necessary to stabilize patients. Ms. Statton’s complaint asks the federal agency responsible for enforcing EMTALA, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to investigate Oklahoma Children’s Hospital and issue a ruling that she violated that law. Possible consequences include fines and exclusion from Medicare funding.

OU Health, which includes Children’s Hospital, said in a statement: “Our health care complies with state and federal laws and regulatory compliance standards.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to say whether it is investigating Oklahoma’s claim and said the administration was committed to “protecting people’s access to the health care they need, including abortion care.”

At a news conference Tuesday, leaders of the Center for Reproductive Rights said the limited exceptions in state abortion bans were written with terminology that doctors do not use and did not make clear when doctors might be at risk of punishment.

“What these laws force doctors to do is weigh the very real threats of criminal prosecution against the health and well-being of their patients,” said Nancy Northup, the group’s president.

In the case of Texas, after a hearing in July In which several women gave tearful testimony, a judge issued a temporary waiver to the state’s abortion ban that would allow patients with serious pregnancy complications to obtain abortions, but the waiver was blocked when the state immediately appealed. The case is scheduled for trial next year.

The lawsuits filed Tuesday against Tennessee and Idaho, which include eight patients, four doctors and an Idaho medical organization, not only ask for clarification on what situations qualify as medical emergencies eligible for abortions, but also ask state courts to expand exemptions so that Pregnancies with lethal fetal anomalies can be legally aborted.

The plaintiffs in the Tennessee case include Nicole Blackmon, who said she was 15 weeks pregnant when she learned the fetus had a fatal medical condition. Tennessee’s abortion ban does not include exceptions for serious fetal anomalies, so she could not get an abortion in the state. Ms. Blackmon could not afford to travel to another state and, seven months into her pregnancy, after her health worsened, she gave birth to a stillborn baby, she said at Tuesday’s news conference.

“That law forced me to carry a baby for months that was never going to live and that could have easily killed me,” said Blackmon, who said that shortly before she became pregnant last year, her 14-year-old son Daniel was killed in a drive-by shooting. “I kept expecting to lose another child that same year,” she said.

The Tennessee attorney general’s office said it had not yet received the center’s lawsuit and will review it when it receives it.

In Oklahoma, Ms. Statton, a mother of three, first went to a local Catholic hospital, where she was told she was suffering a miscarriage. The next day she visited her OB-GYN, who determined that she had a partial molar pregnancy, a condition in which one egg has been fertilized by two sperm, creating an embryo with too many chromosomes, which cannot survive. The condition can cause precancerous sacs or cysts to develop in the uterus, which can rupture and cause severe bleeding or turn into cancer.

Statton said the doctor told her she would “get worse” unless she had an abortion to remove the tissue, but because the hospital was Catholic, the doctor couldn’t perform the procedure.

He transferred Ms. Statton to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, about an hour away, in Oklahoma City.

There, Ms. Statton, who was about nine weeks pregnant, said doctors told her she should have the abortion immediately, but an ultrasound technician told them they could not provide it because the fetus’s cardiac activity could still be detected. “They were arguing with the ultrasound technician,” Statton said, and the doctors finally “came back into the room and said, ‘We can’t.'”

They transferred her to Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, part of the same health system, saying it had specialized care that could allow her to be treated. When the staff at that hospital said they could not perform an abortion until her condition worsened, her husband began to cry and said, “‘I’m going to lose you, I’m going to lose our baby,'” Ms. said. Statton. saying.

They drove 180 miles to get the abortion at a Kansas clinic, fearing that their condition would deteriorate along the way, Statton said. She still feels sad and angry, she said. In May she underwent a tubal ligation to prevent future pregnancies and she recently started taking antidepressants for the first time, she said.

Statton said that when her state banned abortion she didn’t think much about it because “I would keep my baby and I wouldn’t need it.”

Now, she said, “I just want other women to know that if they go through something like this, they’re not alone and it’s not their fault.”

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