August 26, 2022

Judge Issues Injunction Blocking Biden Abortion Rule in Texas

On August 22, US District Judge James Wesley Hendrix sided with Texas and issued a preliminary injunction to block the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) from enforcing a requirement that federally-funded hospitals offer abortions in the state.

The Texas lawsuit was sparked by new DHS guidance advising medical facilities that receive Medicare funds that they must commit abortions in certain situations, regardless of state laws. The Biden DHS claims to have the authority to mandate hospitals commit abortion through the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). That law requires hospitals to provide stabilizing treatment for any conditions that would jeopardize "the health of the individual."

The DHS press release states:
"The EMTALA statute requires that Medicare hospitals provide all patients an appropriate medical screening, examination, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary, irrespective of any state laws or mandates that apply to specific procedures. Stabilizing treatment could include medical and/or surgical interventions, including abortion. If a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the health or life of the pregnant person — or draws the exception more narrowly than EMTALA’s emergency medical condition definition — that state law is preempted."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton took the Biden administration's guidance as a threat to defund hospitals in pro-life states, and he responded by filing a lawsuit against the administration. When filing the lawsuit, Paxton's office stated,

"This Biden Administration’s Abortion Mandate has the effect of requiring doctors and hospitals to choose between performing abortions in violation of State law or caring for women as they always have while incurring fines and the loss of federal funding.  

Texas law has long permitted doctors to perform abortions when the life of the mother is at risk. That is still the law. EMTALA does not empower the federal government to change that. EMTALA requires hospitals to treat patients the same regardless of their ability to pay; it does not authorize the federal government to commandeer the practice of medicine."

In his ruling to place a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration's EMTALA guidance, Judge Hendrix took a hard stance against the DHS:

"That Guidance goes well beyond EMTALA’s text, which protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent as to abortion, and preempts state law only when the two directly conflict. Since the statute is silent on the question, the Guidance cannot answer how doctors should weigh risks to both a mother and her unborn child. Nor can it, in doing so, create a conflict with state law  where one does not exist. The Guidance was thus unauthorized. In any event, HHS issued it without the required opportunity for public comment. As a result, the Court will preliminarily enjoin the Guidance’s enforcement against the plaintiffs."

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