Appeals Court Rules Joe Biden Can’t Force Texas to Turn ERs Into Abortion Centers

In a major life victory, a federal appeals court ruled that Joe Biden could not take advantage of a federal law to try to force Texas to turn emergency rooms into abortion centers.

As LifeNews previously reported, last year a federal district court in Texas issued a order blocking the Biden administration’s attempt to force state emergency room doctors to perform abortions—regardless of whether doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Judge James Wesley Hendrix determined that the state of Texas and two groups of pro-life physicians will likely prevail in their case against the US Department of Health and Human Services. Hendrix issued his order in a case called Texas et al., v. Xavier Becerra, et al.

Now, a federal appeals court agreed.

“The question before the court is whether EMTALA, according to HHS Guidance, mandates physicians to provide abortions when that is the necessary stabilization of treatment for an emergency medical condition. Not this. Therefore, we decline to expand the scope of EMTALA,” a three-judge panel of 5th The US Circuit Court of Appeals said in a unanimous decision.

The state of Texas, along with the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Christian Medical & Dental Associations, sued the Biden administration to challenge its abortion mandate, which was creatively based on Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Actor EMTALA.

Texas and the other plaintiffs argued that the Biden administration’s mandate was unconstitutional to require abortions in situations where Texas prohibits them under its own law, the Texas Human Life Protection Act.

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ADF attorneys representing the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, tell LifeNews this is a case about the illegal use of federal law to coerce emergency physicians. room to perform abortions. They asked the federal appeals court to stay in place a lower court decision prevents the Biden administration from using the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act to force doctors to provide elective abortions in emergency rooms.

“Hospitals—especially emergency rooms—are life-saving centers. The government has no business turning them into abortion clinics,” said ADF Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Ryan Bangert, who will argue before the court. “Doctors should not be forced to break the Hippocratic Oath, and they should not have to choose between violating their deeply held beliefs or facing severe financial penalties and being banned from the Medicare program. Emergency room doctors can, and do, treat ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening conditions. But elective abortion is not life-saving care—it ends the life of an unborn child—and the government has no authority to force doctors to perform these dangerous procedures. We urge the court to uphold the lower court’s decision and allow emergency rooms to perform their primary function—saving lives.”

Congress approved EMTALA in 1986 to ensure public access to emergency services even if an individual can pay. Section 1867 of the Social Security Act imposes specific obligations on Medicare-participating hospitals that offer emergency services to provide medical evaluation or treatment for an emergency medical condition, including active labor, regardless of ability to finance.

Hospitals are required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with so-called emergency medical conditions. If a Medicare-participating hospital cannot stabilize a patient, or if the patient requests, the hospital will transfer the patient to another facility.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra issued federal guidance in July, arguing that the 1986 law “protected [the] clinical judgment and the action that [doctors] do to provide stabilized medical treatment to [their] pregnant patients,” regardless of any abortion restrictions in their state.

It’s simple, right?

But Becerra then stretched the limits of law and common sense in reading the emergency medical treatment law, saying:

[If] A physician believes that a pregnant patient presenting to an emergency department, including certain labor and delivery departments, is experiencing an emergency medical condition as defined by EMTALA, and that abortion is the stabilizing treatment that necessary to resolve that condition, the physician must provide that treatment. . And when state law prohibits abortion and excludes the exception for the life and health of the pregnant woman—or makes the exception narrower than EMTALA’s definition of emergency medical condition—the state law preempts.

That interpretation means that under the HHS mandate, the federal government’s own definition of “emergency medical condition” will preempt any more narrowly tailored state definition. It also means that elective abortions will qualify as “emergency medical conditions.”

Is this a correct reading of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act? Far from here. This is a poorly disguised attempt to use federal law to turn every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic.

How do we know this? Because EMTALA requires health care providers (more specifically, federally funded hospitals participating in Medicare) to provide stabilizing treatment for emergency medical conditions that pose a serious risk to patients, including “not unborn child” of the pregnant woman (a phrase used four times in the law) .

The law does not mandate, direct, approve, or even suggest the provision of any particular treatment. It says nothing about requiring abortion.

Hendrix pointed it out in his order granting the relief sought by the Texas plaintiffs and the two medical groups, noting that Becerra’s guidance from HHS:

moreover the text of EMTALA, which protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent on abortion, and only preempts state law when the two are in direct conflict. Because the law is silent on the question, the guidance cannot answer how doctors should weigh the risks to a mother and her unborn child. Nor does it, in so doing, create a conflict with state law where one does not exist. The guidance is therefore unauthorized.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, Hendrix highlighted, implicitly “protects both mothers and unborn children,” something the HHS guidance ignored.

The judge sums up:

[The guidance] discards the need to consider the welfare of unborn children when determining how to stabilize a pregnant woman; it claims to preempt state laws despite express provisions to the contrary; and it is not allowed to interfere with the practice of medicine in violation of the Medicare Act. Because the HHS guidance is a statement of policy that establishes or modifies an important legal standard, it is also subject to notice-and-comment requirements—requirements that are not met here.

In a case similar to the one in Texas, the Justice Department filed a case Aug. 2 against the state of Idaho, hoping to undermine its new law banning most abortions by saying that state law contrary to EMTALA and medical treatment for pregnant women in emergency rooms.

US District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found Wednesday that Idaho’s law conflicts with federal law because it prohibits abortions in almost all circumstances.

Idaho law, however, allows a doctor to raise as an affirmative defense in a criminal case that he determined that an abortion was necessary to save the patient’s life.

Disagreeing, Winmill noted that Idaho law puts doctors in the “impossible task of trying to simultaneously comply with both federal and state law” and that “state law must yield to federal law. when it is impossible to follow both.”

Scholars have also noticed that if hospital administrators in Idaho believe they cannot comply with both state and federal law, they can deny Medicare funding that subjects them to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act in the first place.

Idaho will likely appeal Winmill’s decision to the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

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