Feds Launch First Investigation into Allegations that a Woman Was Denied a Medically-Necessary Abortion

Empty hospital bed near sunny window
Empty hospital bed near sunny window


The federal government has launched an investigation after a Missouri hospital allegedly denied abortion services during a medical emergency.

In October, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services launched an investigation after doctors at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, Missouri denied abortion services to a woman, violating the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, according to Kaiser Health News.

The investigation involves 41-year-old Mylissa Farmer, whose water broke at nearly 18 weeks pregnant, causing bleeding and cramping, the outlet reports. After visiting Freeman Hospital on Aug. 2, physicians reportedly said her pregnancy was no longer viable and needed to be terminated as Farmer faced risks of serious infections.

After her doctors consulted with the hospital's lawyers, Farmer said she was told the hospital could no longer terminate her pregnancy due to the state's abortion ban.

Missouri's current abortion law criminalizes abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy. No exceptions are made for victims of rape or incest, though exceptions are allowed for medical emergencies, such as when a mother's life is at risk, or she is facing serious permanent injury.

However, doctors and hospital lawyers allegedly determined that Farmer did not qualify as an exception, KHN reports. "My doctors said it was an emergency, and I felt it was an emergency," Farmer told the outlet.

After several hospitals told her the pregnancy was not viable and her life was at risk, Farmer explained that she eventually went across state lines and underwent the procedure to end her pregnancy in Illinois.

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Physicians who violate the law could face prosecution and have their license revoked. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will reportedly not disclose details of the investigation until it's completed and penalties are finalized.

In July, the Biden Administration made it clear that doctors are required to follow federal law when it comes to providing abortion services despite state trigger laws after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

At the time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a clarifying guidance stating that federal law preempts state abortion bans in cases of medical emergencies — when the mother's life is at risk.

In a release, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra cited requirements from the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA).

"If a physician believes that a pregnant patient presenting at an emergency department is experiencing an emergency medical condition as defined by EMTALA, and that abortion is the stabilizing treatment necessary to resolve that condition, the physician must provide that treatment," the guidance states. "When a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the life of the pregnant person — or draws the exception more narrowly than EMTALA's emergency medical condition definition — that state law is preempted."

"Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care," Becerra said in a statement. "Today, in no uncertain terms, we are reinforcing that we expect providers to continue offering these services, and that federal law preempts state abortion bans when needed for emergency care."