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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra Announces Actions to Protect Patients and Providers in Response to Texas’ SB 8

Today, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra announced new resources and actions to protect reproductive health care for Texans, in response to President Joe Biden’s directive. Following the passage of SB 8, President Biden launched a whole-of-government response and directed HHS to explore options to bolster access to safe and legal abortions in Texas. Secretary Becerra is announcing measures HHS will take, including grant support for clinics, and resources that outline protections for health care personnel, and reinforcement of legal protections for pregnant individuals or persons experiencing pregnancy loss in Texas.

“Every American deserves access to health care no matter where they live – including access to safe and legal abortions,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “For decades, both in Congress and as California’s Attorney General, I’ve stood with women in the fight for reproductive justice and access to care under Roe vs. Wade. 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.”

Secretary Becerra is announcing a three-pronged Department-wide response from HHS focused on protecting Texas patients and health care providers, including:

  1. Title X Grant Support for Providers. Last week, Title X grantees received nearly $19 million to support expansion of family planning services. HHS Office for Population Affairs (OPA) will award additional funding to Every Body Texas, a current Title X family planning grantee, to respond to the anticipated increase in clients’ needs for emergency contraception and family planning services.  Second, OPA plans to award up to $10 million in grants to expand access to emergency contraception and family planning services to any Title X services eligible applicant that can demonstrate a need resulting from an influx of clients as a result of SB 8 as well as states around the country with increased needs overall. This funding opportunity, entitled: Funding to Address Dire Need for Family Planning Services, can be accessed here.
  2. Enforcement of Nondiscrimination Against Health Care Providers. The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces the Church Amendments, which protect health care personnel from employment discrimination who object to performing abortion, sterilization, and biomedical or behavioral research activities because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions.  This law also protects health care personnel from discrimination related to their employment because they performed or assisted with a lawful abortion. Today’s guidance outlines protections that prohibit recipients of grants, loans, contracts, or loan guarantees under the Public Health Service Act from discriminating in the employment, promotion, or termination of employment of any physician or other health care personnel because the individual performed or assisted in the performance of an abortion. OCR can receive complains from individuals who believe they may have been discriminated against in violation of the Church Amendments.  To file a complaint, visit: https://ocrportal.hhs.gov/ocr/smartscreen/main.jsf
  3. Enforcement of Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) and Medicare Conditions of Participation. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) issued a memorandum to providers reinforcing EMTALA and legal obligations specific to pregnant patients or patients experiencing pregnancy loss. The EMTALA statute requires that all patients receive an appropriate medical screening, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary, irrespective of any state laws or mandates that apply to specific procedures. 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. Civil monetary penalties may be imposed against hospitals or individual physicians for EMTALA violations. Additionally, physicians may also be subject to exclusion from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

For a fact sheet on HHS’ efforts to support patients and reproductive rights in Texas, visit: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/fact-sheet-hhs-actions-to-support-health-care-providers-and-patients-in-texas.pdf