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Texas sues Biden administration over requirement that hospitals perform abortions in emergencies

Vice President Kamala Harris on protecting abortion rights 03:43

Washington — Texas on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration seeking to block its new mandate that hospitals provide abortions if the life of the mother is at risk, even in states with bans on the procedure that do not include exceptions.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton brought the suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in federal district court in Lubbock, arguing the guidance issued Monday is unlawful and would force doctors and hospitals to "commit crimes" under state law. 

Paxton claimed the mandate from the Biden administration is an "attempt to use federal law to transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic."

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre denounced the lawsuit, calling it "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," she said in a statement. 

The lawsuit from Texas is the latest legal battle to stem from the Supreme Court's decision last month overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. As a result of the ruling unwinding the constitutional right to an abortion, laws in several Republican-led states, including Texas, that banned the procedure took effect. 

In response to the Supreme Court's decision, President Biden issued an executive order designed to protect access to abortion services. On Monday, HHS issued new guidance to hospitals notifying them that they must provide emergency abortions if the life of the mother is at risk, stating that a federal law requiring emergency medical treatment preempts state abortion bans.

In a letter to health care providers, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote that under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), if a physician believes a pregnant patient brought to an emergency department is experiencing an emergency medical condition, as defined by the law, and needs an abortion, the physician must provide the treatment.  

"And when a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the life and health of the pregnant person — or draws the exception more narrowly than EMTALA's emergency medical condition definition — that state law is preempted," Becerra wrote.

The agency said emergency conditions include "ectopic pregnancy, complications of pregnancy loss, or emergent hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia with severe features."

"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," the secretary wrote.

But in his lawsuit, Paxton accused Mr. Biden of "flagrantly disregarding the legislative and democratic process — and flouting the Supreme Court's ruling before the ink is dry — by having his appointed bureaucrats mandate that hospitals and emergency medicine physicians must perform abortions."

He argued Becerra and other federal health officials lack the authority to issue the mandate, and the administration's guidance conflicts with federal law and violates the Constitution. Paxton asked the court to block enforcement of the rule and find it unlawful.

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