Medical emergency definition raises questions in Alabama

Doctors across Alabama are left without clear answers when it comes to performing medical abortions.

The Human Life Protection Act makes it illegal for anyone to perform an abortion in the state, unless there is a medical emergency or the patient’s health is at a serious risk.

But what qualifies as a “medical emergency”?

The statute is extremely vague, and doctors may be trying to determine themselves what exactly falls into that medical emergency category.

“Medical providers are unfortunately forced with making split-second decisions about what is in the best interest of the patient,” said Michael Timberlake, senior partner at Timberlake & League law firm.

That decision comes with unimaginable risk.

“You never want a medical professional to be staring down the possibility that their judgment results in a felony charge, could remove their license or put them in jail,” said Timberlake.

But vagueness in the law will force medical professionals to make a judgment call.

“The statute says that a medical emergency is a condition which, in a reasonable medical judgment, would affect the life or safety of the mother,” said Timberlake.

No specific injuries, illness or conditions are mapped out for doctors in the Human Life Protection Act.

“We’re trying to interpret something that there may not be a consensus in the medical community to determine what that is,” said Timberlake.

“You’re trying to make the best judgment call that you can in any situation, and to compound that with the possibility of being charged as a felony if someone believes you made the wrong call, it’s untenable,” he added.

Timberlake said there should be an outline for medical professionals to eliminate the risk of a wrong call.

“I think what you’re going to need is the hospital personnel, the doctors, and the district attorneys and maybe the attorney general, to get together and really give this law some clarity,” said Timberlake.

Some doctors may reach out to a criminal lawyer in fear of losing a license they worked years to get.

“I am certain that medical providers and hospitals are going to reach out to criminal lawyers and ask them for their interpretation of this law and what they can do to try to prevent their physicians from being convicted of a felony offense,” said Timberlake.

WAAY 31 reached out to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office to see if it plans to work with medical professionals on which risks or emergencies qualify for a medical abortion.

We have not heard back yet.