Texas sued the Biden administration Thursday over guidance issued earlier this week, claiming that federal law preempts state abortion bans in some instances, giving doctors greater latitude to perform the procedure.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who served as California’s chief prosecutor before being tapped to lead U.S. health policy, issued guidance on Monday asserting that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) may preempt state abortion bans in some situations.
Becerra’s guidance came as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that created a constitutional right to abortion. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenged Becerra in court, accusing the Biden administration of attempting to supplant state authority to regulate abortion.
“This administration has a hard time following the law, and now they are trying to have their appointed bureaucrats mandate that hospitals and emergency medicine physicians perform abortions,” Paxton said in a statement. “I will ensure that President Biden will be forced to comply with the Supreme Court’s important decision concerning abortion and I will not allow him to undermine and distort existing laws to fit his administration’s unlawful agenda.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded to the lawsuit in a statement: “This is yet another example of an extreme and radical Republican elected official. It is unthinkable that this public official would sue to block women from receiving life-saving care in emergency rooms, a right protected under U.S. law.”
Becerra issued a letter along with Monday’s guidance saying health providers are protected under federal law to conduct abortions in the case of medical emergencies as defined by the EMTALA.
“It is critical that providers know that a physician or other qualified medical personnel’s professional and legal duty to provide stabilizing medical treatment to a patient who presents to the emergency department and is found to have an emergency medical condition preempts any directly conflicting state law or mandate that might otherwise prohibit such treatment,” Becerra said in the letter.
“Any state laws or mandates that employ a more restrictive definition of an emergency medical condition are preempted by the EMTALA statute,” he added.
The Texas lawsuit characterizes the federal health guidance as an “attempt to use federal law to transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic.” The lawsuit points out that Texas’ law banning abortion already has an exemption if the life of the mother is at risk.
The state law “does not apply if the woman on whom the abortion is performed ‘has a life-threatening physical condition’ arising from a pregnancy that places her ‘at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless the abortion is performed,’” the lawsuit says.