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SEATTLE (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday that Washington state will pass a law requiring hospitals to perform abortions when necessary to stabilize patients, a move that comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on whether conservative states can ban abortions in certain medical emergencies.

There is no evidence that patients in Washington have been denied emergency abortions. However, the Democrat said during a press conference in Seattle that he wanted to remove any doubt that hospitals are required to offer these services when needed.

“This is a preemptive measure against the Supreme Court decision,” Inslee said. “If your health is harmed in any way because you don’t seek emergency care, you should have the right to seek that emergency care.”

Most Republican-controlled states have enacted abortion restrictions since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, striking down the right to abortion under federal law. Fourteen states have banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with few exceptions.

Those states include Idaho, where abortions are banned only in life-threatening situations. Doctors who violate the law can face felony charges and up to five years in prison. The Biden administration filed suit to block the ban in Idaho, arguing that federal law requires hospitals that accept Medicare to perform emergency abortions when a patient’s health is threatened, though not necessarily her life.

The Supreme Court allowed Idaho’s ban to take effect while it considers the case, with a decision expected by the end of this month.

Most Democratic-majority states have passed laws or executive orders protecting access to abortion, including Washington, which has created a three-year supply of abortion drugs in case their availability is restricted by a federal court ruling.

Washington has also increased funding for reproductive care clinics, banned the State Patrol from cooperating with out-of-state abortion investigations, and passed a protection law to protect patients who have abortions in Washington from extradition to face charges in another state.

Abortion rights advocates say the bans are already having an impact on emergency care for pregnant women. More and more women whose conditions would normally be treated with abortions now have to be flown out of state for treatment because doctors have to wait until the woman is near death to perform abortions under state law.

The administrative code requires hospitals to offer emergency services to their patients, but it does not yet explicitly state that this includes emergency abortions. Inslee directed the state Department of Health to change this.

“Washington State hospitals are already required by law to provide emergency care to people with these pregnancy complications,” the Washington State Hospital Association said in a written statement Tuesday. “Washington State hospitals also provide this care to people who have crossed the border from Idaho and are in need of care.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the number of women coming to Washington from other states for abortion has increased by 50 percent, Inslee said.

Dr. Sarah Prager, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington, said Tuesday that she has treated patients who have traveled to Washington over the past two years because they could not get medical care at home. One had premature rupture of membranes and uterine inflammation, another had a complicated ectopic pregnancy that was about to rupture, and a third was suffering from bleeding from an incomplete miscarriage.

“When I or another physician has a sick patient in front of me, I should not have to stop and consult with the hospital’s legal department to figure out if I can act,” Prager said. “These wasted moments can cost patients their health, their future fertility and even their lives.”

Abortion opponents accuse doctors of mistreating maternal emergencies and argue that the Biden administration has exaggerated the danger in an effort to undermine state abortion bans.

“We want the highest standard of care for women and we make an exception for abortions to save the life of the mother,” including in cases of ectopic pregnancy, said Esther Ripplinger, president of Human Life of Washington. “But when you say ‘health’ is threatened — that’s an interesting suggestion, because today ‘health’ can mean, ‘Oh, I have a headache, I need an abortion.’ … We have to be very specific about what is an emergency and what is not.”


Associated Press reporter Geoff Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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