After a Hospital Refused Her Emergency Abortion Care, Biden Admin Rejected Her Complaint

Jaci Statton suffered from a nonviable pregnancy with cancerous tissue. An Oklahoma hospital told her to wait "in the parking lot" until her symptoms got worse.

After a Hospital Refused Her Emergency Abortion Care, Biden Admin Rejected Her Complaint
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In March, Jaci Statton, a 25-year-old mother of three in Oklahoma, says she was turned away by a hospital despite suffering from a nonviable, molar pregnancy. Molar pregnancies occur when an embryo has too many chromosomes and can result in developing tissue becoming cancerous. Statton’s emergency room doctor told her she was at risk of hemorrhage and even death, but that the hospital couldn’t provide treatment—because treatment for Statton’s condition was an emergency abortion, and abortion is totally banned in Oklahoma. Throughout that week, Statton was transferred to three different hospitals. At the last hospital, OU Health University of Oklahoma Medical Center (OU), she says she was instructed to wait in the parking lot for her condition to worsen before they could legally treat her: “They said, ‘The best we can tell you to do is sit in the parking lot, and if anything else happens, we will be ready to help you. But we cannot touch you unless you are crashing in front of us or your blood pressure goes so high that you are fixing to have a heart attack,’” she told NPR in April.

Statton and her husband ultimately drove to Kansas for the procedure. Within a month, Statton also had to seek surgery to remove the remaining cancerous tissue. She went on to file a complaint to the Biden administration, citing how OU instructed her to wait in her car, possibly violating the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires doctors to provide stabilizing, emergency care to patients. Sometimes, as in Statton’s case, the only emergency treatment is abortion. But the Washington Post reported on Friday that the Biden administration rejected Statton’s complaint, finding the Oklahoma hospital did nothing wrong.

Statton told the Post that her molar pregnancy “was the closest I’ve ever felt to death.” When her complaint was denied, she says she “felt like … maybe there was no justice.” According to the Post, Biden officials said “they could not comment on Statton’s case or other EMTALA probes.” The Health and Human Services Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Jezebel on why they found no violation in Statton’s complaint.

In 2022, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Biden issued a guidance to hospitals that, under EMTALA, they’re required to provide emergency abortion care—even if doing so is at odds with state laws. Texas filed a lawsuit against Biden over this guidance and earlier this month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Texas, essentially determining that the state should be allowed to let pregnant people die. A few days after the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, the Supreme Court allowed Idaho to enforce its abortion ban even in medical emergencies, lifting an injunction put in place by a lower court. (The Supreme Court will issue a full ruling on the case this April.)

“EMTALA is an important tool in this post-Roe landscape, but it clearly does not do enough to ensure that pregnant people facing dangerous health risks can get the abortion care they need,” Rabia Muqaddam, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement shared with Jezebel. Statton “was forced to travel nearly 200 miles to Kansas for an emergency abortion that should have been provided to her when she arrived at Oklahoma University Health’s emergency room,” Muqaddam said, calling it “horrifying that patients in [her] circumstances are being turned away.” OU “should not be permitted to evade responsibility for this.”

Muqaddam also told the Post that the rejection of Statton’s complaint is “inexplicable, frankly.” She suggested that HHS may have rejected the claim because Statton was transferred from OU’s emergency room to another department, which could make it more difficult to argue that her case was an emergency and OU had violated the law.

Leila Abolfazli, director of national strategy on abortion rights at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Jezebel that without the full facts, it’s difficult to say why Statton’s complaint was rejected. “What we do know is that we’re being forced to basically beg the Supreme Court to not let pregnant folks die,” Abolfazli said.

The Post reports that, since 2022, the only EMTALA complaint the administration has actually publicly taken up is from Mylissa Farmer, a Missouri woman whose water broke at 17 weeks in 2022. Farmer faced an increased risk of sepsis, loss of her uterus, and even death but was turned away from multiple hospitals in Missouri and Kansas. In May, the Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) determined two of the hospitals that were involved had violated EMTALA. Other than Farmer’s case, Biden officials told the Post that “some” EMTALA disputes “have been settled quietly, with hospitals agreeing to change their policies behind the scenes.” In response to this, Muqaddam told the outlet, “In our view, true accountability requires the public and other hospitals to know about these violations.”

According to the Post, out of seven patients with cases involving pregnancy complications that could involve EMTALA violations, just two knew about EMTALA. After the CMS announced that the hospitals that turned Farmer away had violated EMTALA, at least one Idaho-based doctor told the Post she was able to “pressure her hospital’s lawyers into explicitly allowing doctors to provide abortions for patients with [Farmer’s] condition.” It can’t be understated how important publicizing EMTALA is, especially when confusion over abortion bans and what will or won’t result in a doctor being jailed or losing their license is what’s dictating patient care. At least one rural hospital in Idaho shuttered its labor and delivery department altogether after its OB/GYNs, afraid of prosecution for offering reproductive care, left in a mass exodus.

Michelle Banker, an attorney at NWLC who represented Farmer, told Jezebel in May that the CMS’s ruling in Farmer’s case offered necessary clarification that “hospitals, nationwide, must… know there are consequences for violating EMTALA.” And “when a patient comes to them with a condition like Mylissa’s, they do not need to—and must not—wait until the patient is on the brink of death to provide care.” According to Abolfazli, experiences like Statton’s show that abortion bans “have fundamentally changed the way doctors are practicing and in no way is it patient-centered.”

“This is all just telling us more is to come,” she said. “What sends chills down my spine is, this is just the beginning of the complaints.”

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