Texas attorney general says recently released guidance from the Biden administration forces hospitals to commit crimes and risk their licensure
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the federal rules fly in the face of the recent US Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, which triggered a near-total abortion ban in Texas. The Texas law bans all abortions from the moment of fertilization.
“They are trying to have their appointed bureaucrats mandate that hospitals and emergency medicine physicians perform abortions,” Mr. Paxton said of the administration. “I will ensure that President Biden will be forced to comply with the Supreme Court’s important decision concerning abortion.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the lawsuit a reflection of an “extreme and radical” Republican official. “It is unthinkable that this public official would sue to block women from receiving lifesaving care in emergency rooms, a right protected under US law,” she said.
HHS this week released updated guidance to reduce confusion among hospitals and doctors about when an emergency abortion is legal after the Supreme Court’s ruling created a patchwork of state abortion laws, some with narrow exceptions to protect a pregnant woman’s life.
Federal law pre-empts state laws for hospital patients who are experiencing a medical emergency that threatens a pregnant woman’s health and life, the guidance said. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires hospitals to provide treatment to save a patient’s life, but also to prevent organ dysfunction or serious impairment of bodily function.
Hospitals and doctors must act “regardless of the restrictions in the state where you practice,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said as the guidance was announced.
Federal officials said they would enforce the federal law, which comes with its own penalties of up to about $120,000 for each violation.
In Texas, doctors can face criminal charges under a law that predates Roe v. Wade for providing an abortion except to save the life of a pregnant woman. Another Texas law typically bars abortions after six weeks except “if a physician believes a medical emergency exists.” Violators would face civil penalties of at least $10,000.
A trigger law the Texas Legislature passed last year, set to go into effect this month, provides that all abortions in the state are banned from the moment of fertilization. The bill provides an exception if continuing the pregnancy places a woman at risk of death or “serious risk of a substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”
Nevertheless, the federal law “forces hospitals and doctors to commit crimes and risk their licensure under Texas law,” the lawsuit says.
The suit argues that the federal law has never authorized the US government to require healthcare providers to perform abortions or other care and the guidance issued on it oversteps the federal government’s authority. It asks the court to issue temporary and permanent injunctions, blocking the law.
“They missed the point,” Sara Rosenbaum, a health policy and law professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, said of the Texas lawsuit. EMTALA wasn’t enacted to regulate the practice of medicine, but to create a federal requirement for hospitals to provide access to emergency care, she said.
Chance Weldon, director of litigation for the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the language between the federal guidelines and the state abortion exceptions is similar, but said it is still unclear how both will be interpreted on the ground.
“Hospitals are caught between a rock and hard place,” he said, of trying to determine whether a medical condition meets or defies the criteria of both laws. “There’s a lack of clarity about where the overlap is, and the guidance is clear that the federal government would trump here, so that’s the injury.”
Hospitals, doctors and lawyers said they are reviewing laws and sorting through questions about when an abortion is legal, in some cases for patients who have an immediate medical need.
Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who is running against Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, called the lawsuit an attack on Texas women. “This governor’s extremism is killing Texas women,” Mr. O’Rourke said.
Credit: www.Businesshala.com /