Jan 2, 2024 - Health

Texas can ban emergency abortions despite federal guidance, court says

Abortion rights activists and supporters march outside of the Austin Convention Center on May 14, 2022 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Texas can prohibit emergency abortions despite the Biden administration arguing that federal guidance trumps state laws.

The big picture: The state had sued the Department of Health and Human Services over its guidance on the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires that health providers perform abortions in emergency situations.

  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) sought to prohibit enforcement of EMTALA, alleging that it forces providers to perform elective abortions in excess of HHS's authority and contrary to state law.
  • In 2022, a federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing the guidance saying that health providers who perform abortions in emergency situations are protected under federal law, despite state bans. HHS appealed the ruling.

Details: The appeal was heard in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by George W. Bush appointee Judge Leslie Southwick and the Trump-appointed Judges Kurt Engelhardt and Cory Wilson, who declined "to expand the scope of EMTALA."

  • "The Texas plaintiffs argument that medical treatment is historically subject to police power of the States, not to be superseded unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress, is convincing," the opinion states.
  • The federal statute "does not provide an unqualified right for the pregnant mother to abort her child especially when EMTALA imposes equal stabilization obligations," the court document says.
  • Paxton's office and HHS did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Zoom out: The ruling comes after the Texas Supreme Court ruled last month that a pregnant woman suing the state over its abortion ban was not permitted to get such an emergency procedure in the state.

Go deeper: Report: Texas' strict abortion ban linked to over 10% spike in infant deaths

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