Federal Court Blocks Biden Rule Forcing ER Doctors to Perform Abortions Against Their Faith

Federal Court Blocks Biden Rule Forcing ER Doctors to Perform Abortions Against Their Faith
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra attends a town hall meeting at the BeWell clinic in Orange, Calif., on March 9, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Mark Tapscott

A federal judge in Texas blocked, for the time being, regulatory guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that sought to compel emergency room doctors to perform abortions even if doing so violates their conscience or religious faith.

In a 67-page decision, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Lubbock Division, enjoined HHS from enforcing guidance it issued in the wake of the Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that returned legal authority on abortion to state legislatures.
The HHS guidance, which was issued on July 11 along with a letter from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, said the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986 (EMTALA) requires emergency room doctors to perform abortions regardless of their religious views, even if doing so conflicts with a state law.
The HHS actions were challenged by three plaintiffs, the State of Texas and two private groups—the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA). The plaintiffs are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Arizona-based public interest law firm that specializes in First Amendment religious freedom issues.

But U.S. District Court Judge James Wesley Hendrix said the HHS guidance and Becerra's letter went far beyond the intent and letter of the 1986 law.

“That guidance goes well beyond EMTALA’s text, which protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent as to abortion, and preempts state law only when the two directly conflict,” Hendrix wrote.

“AAPLOG and CMDA’s members face a substantial threat of enforcement and severe penalties for their inevitable violation of the Guidance’s requirements with regards to abortion.”

The judge also agreed with the plaintiffs that the HHS actions injured Texas' sovereign interests, saying "the court finds that Texas plausibly alleges an injury to its sovereign interest based on the differences between the guidance’s interpretation of EMTALA and Texas’s laws governing when abortions are permitted.

"Although the defendants dispute this, the language of the guidance and Texas’s laws are not identical, and the differences are material. This mismatch creates areas where the guidance claims to preempt state law—a type of sovereign injury."

Hendrix further agreed that the HHS guidance was issued in violation of federal law, requiring a public notice period for citizens to comment on the proposal prior to its being issued and enforced.

As a result, Hendrix granted the plaintiffs' motion and ordered that "the defendants may not enforce the guidance and letter’s interpretation that Texas abortion laws are preempted by EMTALA; and the defendants may not enforce the guidance and letter’s interpretation of EMTALA—both as to when an abortion is required and EMTALA’s effect on state laws governing abortion—within the State of Texas or against AAPLOG’s members and CMDA’s members."

A spokesman for HHS couldn't be reached for comment.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the court order demonstrates Hendrix's conclusion that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail if the case is appealed by HHS.

“The Biden administration is needlessly, illegitimately, and illegally working to turn emergency rooms into walk-in abortion facilities. Doctors get into their line of work to save lives and care for people—and that’s exactly what they are ethically, morally, and legally required to do,” said ADF senior counsel Ryan Bangert, who argued before the court on behalf of the pro-life OB-GYNs.

“We’re pleased to see the court halt the administration’s attempt to flagrantly disregard the legislative and democratic process, and we’ll continue to defend those in the medical profession who wish to respect and save lives, not take them,” Bangert continued.

“Emergency room physicians can, and do, treat ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening conditions. Elective abortion is not life-saving care—it ends the life of the unborn—and the government can’t force doctors to perform procedures that violate their conscience and religious beliefs,” ADF senior counsel Denise Harle said in a statement praising the decision. Harle is also director of the ADF Center for Life.

In their motion seeking the order, the plaintiffs told the court that the HHS action "imposes massive financial penalties and disqualification from federally funded health programs for doctors who do not do abortions ..." and that because the mandate to perform abortions "issues yet ill-defined threats requiring abortions, it inherently, and intentionally, imposes substantial pressure for them to do abortions regardless of their religious beliefs. That pressure is an irreparable injury."
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.