In what would be a major and potentially deadly change in American healthcare policy, The House of Representatives will take up H.R. 358 —The Protect Life Act—this week. The bill would permit federally funded hospitals to refuse abortion services even to women who would likely die without the procedure.
As the law currently stands, hospitals are required by EMTALA to provide emergency care to anyone who walks through their doors. If a hospital is unable or unwilling to perform a necessary procedure, it is obligated to stabilize the patient and then transfer the individual to a facility that can perform the procedure and agrees to do so. As a result of the EMTALA requirements, the 600 plus Catholic hospitals in the nation who are unwilling to perform abortions on religious grounds, even in life-threatening circumstances to the mother, are obligated to transfer that patient in need of such a procedure to a hospital that agrees to perform the required operation.
If The Protect Life Act were to pass, this would no longer be the case. Hospitals that do not care to perform abortions, for whatever reason and even when the procedure is required to save the life of the mother, would be legally permitted to simply do nothing.
While one might anticipate that hospitals refusing to perform abortions would transfer a patient in life-threatening circumstances to a facility willing to perform the abortion, I wouldn't be so sure.
In 2009, a Phoenix-based Catholic bishop excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital, for authorizing an abortion in the case of a woman who was suffering from pulmonary hypertension and was likely to die without the procedure. In stating his reasons for this extreme act, the Archdiocese issued a statement saying, in part:
An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means.
The direct killing of an unborn child is always immoral, no matter the circumstances, and it cannot be permitted in any institution that claims to be authentically Catholic.