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.
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.