Health

HHS announces funds, legal protections for abortion providers and patients

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is offering federal resources to protect abortion providers and patients in Texas as well as the rest of the country.

The department’s announcement Friday included a list of planned actions like grant support for clinics and legal protections for healthcare workers and pregnant patients.

Following the passage of Texas’ Senate Bill 8, otherwise known as the “heartbeat bill,” the Biden administration has directed a number of government agencies, including HHS, to find ways to safeguard reproductive rights for Texans.

“Every American deserves access to health care no matter where they live—including access to safe and legal abortions,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a press release. He called the Texas law a “dangerous attack” on healthcare and said “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.”

RELATED: Texas abortion providers under strain, concerned about safety, patient care following ‘heartbeat bill’

Grants will be available for providers to support family planning services and emergency contraception. Last week, existing Title X grantees received about $19 million to that end, the department’s announcement said. More funds are expected to be awarded to any Title X services-eligible applicant with increased needs for these services, either as a result of SB8 or in general.

The department also announced that Public Health Service Act recipients who receive contracts, loans and grants from the government may not discriminate against healthcare workers for assisting with or performing a legal abortion. Those rights are protected under the Church Amendments, which typically safeguard healthcare workers from employment discrimination based on their religious beliefs. Individuals can file complaints to the HHS Office for Civil Rights if they experience discrimination.

Pregnant patients and patients experiencing pregnancy loss are also protected under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which overrides state laws and mandates in emergencies. That law mandates that all patients receive appropriate medical care if they are found to have an emergency medical condition. The department’s announcement warned that providers found in violation of the statute may be excluded from Medicare and Medicaid programs or receive fines.

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