Oklahoma Children's Hospital accused of EMTALA violation

The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a complaint with HHS that accuses Oklahoma Children's Hospital of denying an abortion to a woman with a "dangerous" and "nonviable" pregnancy. 

The complaint was filed Sept. 12 on behalf of Jaci Statton, a 26-year-old Oklahoma resident who was diagnosed with a partial molar pregnancy, a rare complication where the embryo has too many chromosomes for a pregnancy to continue correctly and can present life-threatening complications if left untreated. 

According to the complaint, the woman went to the emergency department at University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City in early 2023, where she was denied an abortion because fetal cardiac activity was still detected. The facility transferred her to Oklahoma Children's Hospital, where the complaint said medical staff "acknowledged that Jaci's condition was serious and that pregnancy was threatening her life," but said they were unable to provide an abortion until her condition deteriorated further. 

"Staff made it clear why they were refusing to treat Jaci, telling her, in sum and in substance, that they believed that they were prevented from providing care due to Oklahoma law until Jaci was near death," the complaint said, claiming the case was a violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Ms. Statton ended up traveling out of state to receive care.

"I was told to wait in a hospital parking lot until I was near death in order to get the life-saving care I needed," she said in a statment. 

EMTALA is a long-standing federal law requiring hospitals to provide all patients appropriate emergency care. Last summer, when the law became the center of legal disputes over abortion in certain states, HHS sent guidance to hospitals specifying that "stabilizing treatment could include medical and/or surgical interventions, including abortion," and that EMTALA preempts state law where abortion is prohibited. 

In May, CMS launched probes into two hospitals for allegedly not providing stabilizing care to a pregnant patient experiencing a medical emergency, marking the first time HHS enforced EMTALA for denied emergency care since the overturn of Roe v. Wade. 

Becker's has reached out to Oklahoma Children's Hospital and HHS and will update the report as more information becomes available. 

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