Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) is suing the Biden administration over an executive order that guarantees an emergency abortion to every patient who requires one, no matter what restrictions on the procedure are in place in any given state.
Although abortion is severely curtailed in Texas under a restrictive 1925 law that recently went into effect, the procedure is still currently allowed in the state for those necessitating emergency lifesaving care. However, Paxton’s lawsuit could pave the way for Texas and other states to deny such care to people whose pregnancies are putting their lives at risk.
Paxton defended his lawsuit by claiming that the executive order issued this month by President Joe Biden inappropriately extended aspects of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA).
Biden’s order instructed several executive branch departments, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to revise rules in order to expand access to abortion services. HHS revised its understanding of EMTALA when it comes to abortion coverage, noting that “a physician’s professional and legal duty to provide stabilizing medical treatment to a patient who…is found to have an emergency medical condition preempts any directly conflicting state law or mandate that might otherwise prohibit or prevent such treatment,” including if “abortion is the stabilizing treatment necessary to resolve that condition.”
In short, HHS said that EMTALA preempts any state law on abortion coverage in cases where the life of the pregnant person is threatened. The rule must be enforced at every medical facility that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding.
Paxton claims that the changes flout the recent Supreme Court ruling that upended abortion rights “by having [Biden’s] appointed bureaucrats mandate that hospitals and emergency medicine physicians must perform abortions.” He further claims, within his lawsuit, that the new guidance will “coerce healthcare providers to supply abortions outside the allowable scope under the Hyde Amendment” — even though that legislative amendment, which limits federal spending for abortion services, does make exceptions for rape, incest or the safety of the patient.
The White House denounced Paxton’s lawsuit as an attempt to limit the options of someone with a life-threatening pregnancy.
“The Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit is yet another example of an extreme and radical Republican elected official,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday. “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.”
Others similarly decried the lawsuit brought forward by Paxton.
“EMTALA was not designed specifically for abortion access, or miscarriage management,” health policy expert Lawrence Gostin said in a statement to The New York Times. “But it absolutely includes both of them.”
The HHS guidance is on “solid legal footing,” added Gostin, who has advised the administration in the past.
Paxton “has no integrity and has made it clear that he sees women’s lives as disposable,” said Rochelle Garza, the Democratic Party’s nominee for Texas attorney general and Paxton’s main opponent in this November’s race. “Suing the Biden administration to stop medical exceptions for abortions is just the latest example of his extremist agenda.”
Doctors on social media also spoke out against the lawsuit.
“If you’re an ER doc anywhere in this country, and anyone comes in with a medical emergency, you treat them,” said Rob Davidson, an ER doctor and executive director of the Committee to Protect Health Care. “You do it because of EMTALA and the oath you took. Neither Ken Paxton (TX) nor [Supreme Court Justice] Samuel Alito can do a damn thing about that.”