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Texas court rules to keep abortions out of emergency room

pregnant woman in ER

Christinarosepix | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 01/06/24

Federal guidance on a 1986 law sought to require abortion services in the ER, but the court interpreted the law differently.

A Texas lawsuit that challenged a Biden administration attempt to force emergency room doctors to perform abortions has succeeded. The US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled Tuesday that the government had overreached and that elective abortions do not belong in the emergency room. 

The case arose in 2022, when the Department of Health and Human Services sought to make abortion available in emergency rooms through guidance on the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act of 1986 (EMTALA). The guidance presented abortion as a necessary “stabilizing treatment” and would require emergency room doctors to provide abortion even in states where it was illegal. This, however, would be a federal rule and would work contrary to the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to leave abortion rules in the hands of the state.

According to ADF Media, ADF Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Ryan Bangert, who argued before the court, stated that the 5th Circuit Court ruled correctly and that the federal government had indeed overreached. He said: 

“Doctors shouldn’t be forced to break the Hippocratic Oath, and they shouldn’t have to choose between violating their deeply held beliefs or facing stiff financial penalties and being barred from the Medicare program. Emergency room physicians can, and do, treat life-threatening conditions such as ectopic pregnancies. But elective abortion is not life-saving care — it ends the life of the unborn child — and the government has no authority to force doctors to perform these dangerous procedures.”

The court found that EMTALA does not require abortions to be performed in the emergency room, but rather it prevents hospitals from denying life-saving treatment to patients who cannot afford to pay for emergency services. Furthermore, hospitals are required to stabilize both women and unborn children in emergency situations. The court wrote in its decision

“EMTALA does not mandate any specific type of medical treatment, let alone abortion. 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 court thus rejected the Biden administration’s attempt to “expand the scope of EMTALA.”

The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops has hailed the decision, writing on its website: 

“We celebrate the decision by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the permanent injunction of the inappropriate Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidance issued last summer… Catholic hospitals, including in Texas, have been providing compassionate care for women and babies (born and unborn) for centuries without elective abortions, and in full compliance with EMTALA since its inception.”

Read the full statement from the bishops here.

AbortionMedicineUnited States
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