A federal judge blocked the White House late Tuesday from enforcing guidance in Texas to require hospitals to provide emergency abortions regardless of state laws.
U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix in Lubbock agreed with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidance was unauthorized and went beyond the text of a related federal law.
The judge declined to enjoin the guidance nationwide and instead only barred HHS from enforcing it and its interpretation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act in Texas.
Hendrix specifically rule that the HHS guidance, which cites the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), was not authorized.
“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,” he wrote in the ruling. “Since the statute is silent on the question, the Guidance cannot answer how doctors should weigh risks to both a mother and her unborn child. Nor can it, in doing so, create a conflict with state law where one does not exist.”
The HHS’s interpretation of the rule allows for a doctor to initially determine that if the “unborn child does not have an emergency medical condition, the doctor must then close his or her eyes to the unborn child’s health for the remainder of the treatment.”
As a result, it “directly conflicts with the doctor’s ongoing duty to provide care for both the mother and the unborn child when stabilizing a pregnant woman,” the judge wrote. “Because the doctor has a duty to both, EMTALA does not require the doctor to introduce an emergency medical condition to one in order to stabilize the other. Again, EMTALA does not say how to balance both interests. It leaves that determination to the doctor, who is bound by state law.”
Paxton, the Republican Texas attorney general, filed a lawsuit against HHS on July 14, days after the guidance was issued, and said it forces hospitals and doctors to commit crimes and risk their medical licenses under Texas state law. EMTALA also doesn’t give the federal government the ability to force healthcare providers to perform abortions, he also wrote.
The White House issued a statement after Hendrix’s ruling on Wednesday.
“Today’s decision is a blow to Texans. Texas filed this suit to ensure that it can block medical providers from providing life-saving and health-preserving care,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wrote, claiming that women in Texas will now be “denied this vital care.”
Biden signed the emergency HHS rule weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that argued women have a constitutional right to get an abortion.
Reuters contributed to this report.