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Healey signs order protecting emergency abortion care in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey on Jan. 6, 2023.
State House News Service
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey on Jan. 6, 2023.

Gov. Maura Healey issued an executive order Monday meant to safeguard access to emergency abortions as her administration girds for U.S. Supreme Court rulings this week that could further unravel reproductive care options across the country.

Healey's order, which coincides with the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, emphasizes Massachusetts residents right to emergency abortion care and affirms the commonwealth's shield law protecting providers and out-of-state patients who receive abortions here. State hospitals could also lose their licenses if they do not provide emergency care outlined in state and federal law, and insurers should cover emergency abortion care, Healey's office said.

Monday's executive order is driven by a pending case over whether Idaho's abortion ban conflicts with federal law requiring certain hospitals to provide "necessary stabilizing treatment" in emergency situations. Healey this month has repeatedly expressed concerns about the case and how it could affect Massachusetts.

"Two years ago, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, I pledged to the people of Massachusetts that we were going to protect and expand reproductive freedom," Healey said in a statement. "But with continued attacks on women’s health and freedom across the country, and the Supreme Court poised to rule any day now in a case that could prevent pregnant women from receiving emergency, life-saving treatment, we must continue to act. That’s why I’m signing an Executive Order today affirming that Massachusetts patients will continue to receive emergency abortion care at our hospitals regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling."

In addition to Healey's order, new Department of Public Health guidance warns that hospitals that violate the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) or related state laws could see their licenses revoked or not renewed. Failing to provide abortion care "when required to avoid the risk of loss of life of a pregnant person or serious harm to their health" constitutes an EMTALA violation, and hospitals' licenses to operate could be revoked under DPH guidance, Healey's office said.

The DPH guidance says licensed health care providers and physicians are obligated to treat emergency medical conditions, including pregnant patients whose lives are at risk, and that they could be disciplined for not providing care.

The Healey administration also expects insurers to cover abortions, abortion-related care and medication abortion services, including emergency abortion care, according to a new Division of Insurance bulletin. The DOI information also addresses the state's expectations for medical malpractice coverage for providers offering reproductive and gender-affirming care.

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