Missouri investigating if federal law was violated in alleged emergency abortion denial

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is investigating a Joplin hospital after a woman says she was denied a medically necessary abortion at the facility, department spokesperson Lisa Cox confirmed to Becker's Nov. 1. 

State officials are specifically looking at whether the hospital, part of Freeman Health System, violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Ms. Cox emphasized that the patient is not being investigated. 

EMTALA, enacted in 1986, has been the focus of legal disputes over abortion in some states since the Supreme Court's June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The federal law requires Medicare hospitals to provide all patients appropriate emergency care, such as stabilizing treatment and transfer, if necessary regardless of state law. In July, HHS clarified that stabilizing treatment could include abortion care. 

The investigation into the Joplin hospital relates to patient Mylissa Farmer, who said she was denied an abortion in August after visiting Freeman Health System's local emergency room when her water broke at 18 weeks gestation, the Springfield News-Leader reported Oct. 19. Ms. Farmer and her partner eventually had to travel to Illinois for the procedure, according to the report. Missouri had recently enacted its near-total ban on the procedure. The state law includes an exception in medical emergencies, such as when "a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman." Ms. Farmer was denied the abortion in Missouri after it was determined that her situation did not immediately present a life-threatening medical emergency, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

Becker's has reached out to the health system for comment.

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