HHS takes action in opposition to Texas’ Senate Bill 8

El Paso News

FILE – In this Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 file photo, Barbie H. leads a protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. Dozens of people protested the abortion restriction law that went into effect Wednesday. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The federal government is taking measures to protect patients and providers from the ramifications of Senate Bill 8 (SB8) in Texas.

On Friday, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra announced new resources and actions to preserve reproductive healthcare for Texans in response to a directive from President Joe Biden.

Biden announced a whole-of-government response following the passage of SB8 and directed HHS to explore options to bolster access to safe and legal abortions in Texas.

“Every American deserves access to health care no matter where they live – including access to safe and legal abortions,” said Becerra.

“Now, in response to President Biden’s directive, HHS is taking actions to support and protect both patients and providers from this dangerous attack on Texans’ health care. Today we are making clear that doctors and hospitals have an obligation under federal law to make medical decisions regarding when it’s appropriate to treat their patients. And we are telling doctors and others involved in the provision of abortion care, that we have your back,” he adds.

Sec. Xavier Becerra

Becerra announced measures HHS will take that include grant support for clinics, resources that outline protections for health and personal care, and reinforce legal protections for pregnant people experiencing pregnancy loss in Texas.

HHS is taking a three-pronged approach that includes:

  • Title X grant support for providers
    • Title X grantees received almost $19 million to support expanding family planning services last week
    • HHS Office for Population Affairs (OPA) will award additional funding to Every Body Texas, which is an existing Title X family planning grantee, to respond to the expected increase in clients’ needs for emergency contraception and family planning tools 
    • OPA is set to award up to $10 million in grants to expand and enhance access to emergency contraception and family planning services to any Title X services eligible applicant that can prove a need that is resultant from an influx of clients because of SB8, as well as states around the country with increased need
    • The funding opportunity will be called “Funding to Address Dire Need for Family Planning Services, and can be found here
  • Enforcement of nondiscrimination against healthcare providers
    • The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces the Church Amendments, which protect healthcare personnel from employment discrimination who object to performing abortion, sterilization, and biomedical/behavior research activities because of moral or religions convictions. 
      • The law also protects healthcare from discrimination related to employment because they performed / assisted in unlawful abortion
    • Friday’s guidance outlines protections that outlaw grants, loans, contracts, or loan guarantees from discriminating in the employment, promotion, or termination of employment of any doctor or healthcare personnel because they performed / assisted in the performance of an abortion under the Public Health Service Act
    • OCR can receive complaints from those who believe they may have been discriminated against in violation of the Church Amendments
    • Complaints can be filed here
  • Enforcement of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) and Medicare conditions of participation
    • The Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) issued a memo to providers that reinforces the EMTALA and legal obligations pertaining to pregnant patients or patients undergoing pregnancy loss
    • The statute requires all patients to receive an appropriate medical screening, stabilizing treatment, and transfer (if necessary), regardless of any state laws or mandates to apply to specific procedures
    • HHS says that “A physician’s professional and legal duty to provide medical treatment to a patient who presents to the emergency department and is found to have an emergency medical condition preempts any directly conflicting state law or mandate that might seek to prevent such treatment”
    • Monetary penalties in civil court may be imposed against any hospital or physician for EMTALA violations
      • Physicians may face exclusion from Medicare and Medicaid programs

For more information on SB8, click here; for our complete coverage of Texas politics, click here.

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