In Texas’ case, federal appeals panel says emergency room abortions not required by 1986 law

(Eric Gay/associated press)

In Texas’ case, federal appeals panel says emergency room abortions not required by 1986 law



January 3, 2024

The Biden administration cannot use a 1986 emergency room law to mandate hospitals in Texas


to allow abortions for women whose lives are at risk as a result of pregnancy, a federal appeals court has ruled.

It is one of several cases involving abortion restrictions that have played out in state and federal courts after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down abortion rights in 2022. The government issued guidelines that year stating that hospitals must provide abortion services if there is a risk to the mother’s life, citing the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986, which requires emergency rooms to provide stabilizing treatment to anyone who arrives at the emergency room.

There have also been state courts in Texas over the question of when abortion should be allowed there, despite a ban on it under most circumstances. The Texas Supreme Court ruled last month against a woman who sought permission to abort a fetus with a fatal diagnosis. The same court heard arguments in November on behalf of women who were denied abortion despite serious risks to their health if they continued their pregnancies; the judges have not yet ruled on that case.

Opponents of abortion have challenged emergency room law guidelines in multiple jurisdictions. In Texas, the state joined abortion opponents in a lawsuit to prevent the guidelines from taking effect, and won at the district court level. The Biden administration appealed to the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. But the appeal was dismissed in Tuesday’s ruling by a unanimous three-judge panel.

According to the ruling, the guidelines cannot be used to require emergency room abortions in Texas or by members of two anti-abortion groups that have filed a lawsuit against the American Assn. of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Christian Medical & Dental Assns. The California-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed use of the guidelines in an Idaho case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents of the directive said Texas law already allows abortions to save the mother’s life, but the federal directive went too far by calling for abortions when there is no emergency and removing obligations to protect the unborn child to treat.

The 5th Circuit panel sided with Texas. The opinion states that the Emergency Department Act of 1986 requires hospitals to stabilize the pregnant woman and her fetus.

We agree with the subdistrict court judge [the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act] does not offer the pregnant mother an unconditional right to abort her child, especially when EMTALA imposes equal stabilization obligations, according to the opinion of Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

At the appeal hearing last November, a U.S. Justice Department attorney arguing for the government said the guidelines provide necessary safeguards for women, and that the district court’s order blocking use of the guidelines was a mistake with potentially devastating consequences for pregnant women within the state. of Texas.

The panel that ruled Tuesday consisted of Engelhardt and Cory Wilson, nominated to the court by former President Trump, and Leslie Southwick, nominated by former President George W. Bush.


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