HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: HHS Threatens Fines for Refusing Abortions

Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.

The Department of Health and Human Services says federal law requiring emergency medical treatment takes priority over state restrictions prohibiting abortions. The guidance is meant to protect pregnant patients facing serious medical situations following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The department argues that physicians’ judgment will prevail to protect the health of women in labor and with conditions such as ectopic pregnancies or dangerously high blood pressure, as required by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. If an abortion “is the stabilizing treatment necessary to resolve that condition, the physician must provide that,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a letter to health providers on Monday.

To ensure hospitals and physicians comply, HHS will fine them and block payments from Medicare and Medicaid if physicians or hospitals don’t comply. Those in violation face fines ranging from about $60,000 to $120,000.

HHS claims that the guidance should resolve the dilemma health-care providers now face as new restrictions limiting or banning abortion in about half of US states take effect. Those new laws include fines of as high as tens of thousands of dollars—and up to a decade in jail. Women seeking treatment for dangerous pregnancies or labor conditions have already found themselves turned away in some situations and forced to seek care in less restrictive states. Read more from Lauren Coleman-Lochner.

  • Meanwhile, a new study shows that exposure to a group of chemicals found in plastics, detergents, solvents, and food packaging increased the risk of preterm births, a leading cause of neonatal deaths and disease. More than 6,000 pregnant women were included in the study conducted by scientists at a pair of federal health agencies and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Monday. Read more from Pat Rizzuto.

Minnesota Bans Invalidated Under State Constitution: Minnesota’s constitution protects a fundamental right to choose and to access abortion care, a state court ruled Monday in an order permanently blocking multiple state abortion restrictions. This is the first decision to hold that a state’s constitution protects abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s declaration last month that there is no federal constitutional right. A few courts have halted trigger laws from taking effect. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.

White House Slams Texas GOP Targeting Sidley: At the White House, President Joe Biden’s spokesperson Monday condemned Texas Republican lawmakers’ threat to penalize Sidley Austin and other Texas law firms that have pledged to pay for out-of-state abortion procedures. Such “punitive actions and extreme proposals from elected Republicans are exactly what the president has been warning about,” assistant press secretary Alexandra Lamanna said. Meghan Tribe and Courtney Rozen have more.

Candidate Embraces Her Gender as Abortion Ruling Drives Voters: A Michigan House Democratic primary is testing the power of a woman candidate in the post-Roe era, where abortion rights is emerging as a key campaign issue among female voters. The tense race in the Detroit suburbs pits two largely similar incumbent Democrats against each other. To distinguish herself ahead of the Aug. 2 primary, Rep. Haley Stevens is highlighting gender as a major difference between her and Rep. Andy Levin. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

More Headlines:

Happening on the Hill

Tuesday’s Hill Hearings:

  • The House Rules Committee holds a meeting to formulate rules for debate on two abortion measures—H.R. 8296 and H.R. 8297.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the legal consequences of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
  • The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing to consider the nomination of Rebecca Lee Haffajee as assistant HHS secretary for planning and evaluation.
  • BGOV Calendar: See the full list of hearings and events this week.

Biden Sends HHS Nominee to Senate: The Biden administration formally submitted its nomination of Patrice H. Kunesh to be commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans at the Health and Human Services Department. If confirmed Kunesh, who’s of Standing Rock Lakota descent, would succeed Donald Trump-appointee Jeannie Hovland.

Action on Minibus: The House Rules Committee wants all amendments to the pending “minibus” spending bill filed by Wednesday morning, Nancy Ognanovich reports. The panel won’t meet on the matter or announce a final list of amendments until next week. The package (H.R. 8294) contains the Agriculture-FDA spending bill, among others.

What Else to Know Today

CDC Must Revamp Travel Contract Tracing, GAO Says: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses outdated tools to track and analyze how the coronavirus spreads on airplanes, hampering the agency’s ability to stop outbreaks, a government watchdog agency said. Air travel is a constant public health concern, since a sick person can spread diseases over vast distances. But the Government Accountability Office said the CDC’s tools are too old, slow and prone to issues. Read more from Riley Griffin.

US to Renew Covid Emergency Declaration: The US government will once again extend the Covid-19 public health emergency, retaining measures that have given millions of Americans special access to health insurance and telehealth services. HHS has repeatedly renewed the emergency declaration since it was originally declared in January 2020, with the most recent extension set to expire July 15. Read more from Riley Griffin.

More Covid Headlines:

Army to Add Medical Data to Integration Plan: The Army plans to integrate medical data and systems into the Pentagon-wide unified communications initiative to better prepare for the needs of future battlefields. The Army will seek bids from the private sector for innovation in two of its six medical research priorities—data-AI-biotech and synthetic biology—Army Futures Command Chief of Medical Integration and Readiness Col. Michael Mansell said in an interview. Read more from Patty Nieberg.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at; Michaela Ross at

Stay informed with more news like this – from the largest team of reporters on Capitol Hill – subscribe to Bloomberg Government today. Learn more.