texas court Photo: Milenio

Federal appeals court rules that doctors and hospitals in Texas are not required to perform abortions

Federal Appeals Court Denies Obligation on Texas Hospitals to Perform Abortions in Emergency Cases. Right-to-life advocates celebrated the ruling on Tuesday, January 2, arguing that it was evidence that the Biden administration had legally overreached.

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(ZENIT News / Austin, 01.04.2024).- In a decision impacting the White House strategy to ensure abortion access after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in 2022, a federal appeals court ruled on January 2 that Texas hospitals and doctors are not obligated to perform abortions under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a longstanding emergency care law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded that the federal law «does not mandate any specific type of medical treatment, let alone abortion,» challenging the Biden administration’s interpretation of EMTALA. The court asserted that the law «does not regulate the practice of medicine.»

The three-judge panel also criticized the Biden administration’s process of issuing emergency care guidance, arguing that federal officials did not follow the proper rulemaking process when instructing healthcare providers that they were protected by EMTALA if they believed an abortion was medically necessary. Additionally, the panel noted that the federal emergency care law did not «directly conflict» with the nearly total abortion ban in effect in Texas, which includes exceptions for medical emergencies and was enacted by the state’s Republican legislators.

The White House and federal health officials have invoked EMTALA, a 1986 law requiring hospitals and physicians to treat emergency medical conditions or risk fines, civil lawsuits, and exclusion from federal health programs, following the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision that overturned the national right to abortion. This led to approximately two dozen states implementing abortion bans, and the Biden administration is currently involved in several lawsuits expected to set precedent on whether the emergency care law applies to abortion access, including the Texas case.

«This decision endangers women’s health and lives,» stated the White House on January 3. «Because of this injunction, it’s even harder for women in Texas to get the health care they need, including during an emergency.»

Abortion rights advocates in Texas and nationwide decried the ruling, viewing it as a disregard for women in life-threatening pregnancy situations. They also criticized the Fifth Circuit, widely seen as one of the most conservative courts in the country, with panels repeatedly siding with anti-abortion advocates.

«Deeply disturbing ruling from the Fifth Circuit,» wrote Rochelle Garza, a Democrat who ran for Texas attorney general in 2022 and now serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. «Hospitals and doctors should not have their hands tied when attempting to provide life-saving care for their patients.»

Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), a leading figure in the Women’s Health Protection Act, a proposed bill guaranteeing access to abortion nationwide, stated, «Every American should be outraged» at Republican efforts to oppose abortion. She emphasized the need for a pro-choice majority in Congress to restore Roe and every woman’s right to abortion, preventing politicians from interfering in private healthcare decisions made by women and their doctors.

Meanwhile, anti-abortion advocates celebrated the ruling on January 2, considering it evidence of the Biden administration’s legal overreach.

«Early in 2024, the Court has delivered a big win for babies and mothers by halting a key piece of Biden’s pro-abortion agenda,» said Katie Daniel, State Policy Director of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, in a statement. The federal emergency care law is «no grounds for forcing doctors to carry out abortions even against their better medical judgment,» Daniel added.


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