A panel of judges on a federal appeals court unanimously ruled Tuesday that the Biden administration can’t compel emergency room doctors in Texas to perform abortions in order to stabilize a patient.
The lawsuit stemmed from guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human Service in July 2022 requiring doctors in states such as Texas, where most abortions have been outlawed, to comply with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). The 1986 federal law requires ER physicians to provide an abortion when necessary as part of stabilizing treatment for an emergency medical condition.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations challenged the Biden administration’s guidance.
“The question before the court is whether EMTALA, according to HHS’s Guidance, mandates physicians to provide abortions when that is the necessary stabilizing treatment for an emergency medical condition. It does not,” the ruling handed down by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stated. “We therefore decline to expand the scope of EMTALA.”
“EMTALA does not mandate medical treatments, let alone abortion care, nor does it preempt Texas law,” the three-judge panel – all appointed by Republican presidents – concluded.
The fifth circuit upheld a lower court order blocking enforcement of the guidance in Texas.
“We agree with the district court that EMTALA does not provide an unqualified right for the pregnant mother to abort her child especially when EMTALA imposes equal stabilization obligations,” the fifth circuit’s opinion stated.
The Biden administration issued the guidance in response to the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling which overturned Roe v. Wade, paving the way for states to ban abortions.
Texas’ abortion law prohibits the procedure once a fetal heartbeat is detected unless it is necessary to save the mother’s life or the pregnancy presents “a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”
Doctors who perform abortions in Texas risk criminal penalties of up to life in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Last year, a federal judge in Idaho blocked the state from enforcing its abortion ban, ruling that it conflicted with EMTALA. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit later suspended the lower court ruling pending Idaho’s appeal.