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Watch Your Back — They're Gambling with Your Life

The House is slated to vote this week on an unprecedented bill that would allow hospitals to let women die at their doorsteps.
Sarah Lipton-Lubet,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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October 12, 2011

In a medical emergency, the last thing we should be worried about is whether a hospital is going to put ideology ahead of the care we need to protect our lives and health. But if anti-choice lawmakers get their way, women and their loved ones will have to watch their backs.

The House is slated to vote this week on an unprecedented bill that would allow hospitals to let women die at their doorsteps. It sounds almost unbelievable — but utter disregard for the well-being of women who need abortion care has tragically reached new levels in the House.

The bill, the so-called “Protect Life Act” does anything but. Indeed, it gambles with women’s lives. It could allow hospitals to ignore the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) which requires that patients in medical emergencies receive appropriate medical treatment, including abortion care if that’s what’s medically indicated.

The bill’s proponents will first tell you that this is necessary to protect religiously affiliated hospitals, and then claim that there’s no such thing as emergency abortion care (which begs the question of why they’re so intent on overriding it). They’re wrong on both fronts.

First, the denial of appropriate medical care to a woman suffering from emergency pregnancy complications can be devastating. The following story recorded in the American Journal of Public Health is just one example:

A woman with a condition that prevented her blood from clotting was in the process of miscarrying at a Catholic-owned hospital. According to her doctor, she was dying before his eyes, her eyes filling with blood. But even though her life was in danger, and the fetus had no chance of survival, the hospital wouldn’t let the doctor treat her by terminating the pregnancy until the fetal heartbeat ceased of its own accord. She ended up in the I.C.U.

Second, even the Catholic Health Association, the leadership organization for Catholic hospitals — hardly an anti-religious or pro-choice lobby — has told Congress that they don’t “believe that there is a need for the [refusal] section to apply to EMTALA.” The very institutions on whose behalf this heinous provision has been proposed are saying “don’t do this.” But so far, the bill’s sponsors remain unmoved.

Every representative considering voting for this bill should take a minute — just one — to think about the woman, mid-miscarriage, bleeding and scared out of her wits, who rushes to the nearest hospital only to be told by her doctor that he’s not allowed to treat her. Think about that woman, and then tell us — what are you going to do?

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