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Texas sues Biden admin. over abortion guidance, claims it violates 'sovereign interest'

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., on May 5, 2022. |

Texas is suing the Biden administration over guidelines released earlier this month saying that hospitals must conduct abortions in medical emergencies following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturn of Roe v. Wade last month. 

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the suit Thursday, claiming that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' July 11 letter to healthcare providers violates the state's "sovereign interest in the power to create and enforce a legal code." 

The guidance states that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) requires doctors to provide "stabilizing treatment" to resolve a medical emergency, listing abortion as a potential form of care in cases of ectopic pregnancy, hypertension and preeclampsia. 

Hospitals that don't perform the procedure in these scenarios could face fines or have their Medicare status revoked, according to the suit. It also says that state laws that prohibit abortion and do not include a life of the mother exception are "preempted." 

"These hospitals are now threatened with having to choose between violating state law under the threat of criminal penalty or jeopardizing their ability to participate in Medicaid," Paxton's office argued. 

The Biden administration claims the guidance clarifies a hospital's duties under EMTALA and ensures doctors know they are free to provide emergency medical care by law.

"In no uncertain terms, we are reinforcing that we expect providers to continue offering these services, and that federal law preempts state abortion bans when needed for emergency care," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a July 11 statement

Becerra maintains that no matter where women live, they have the "right to emergency care — including abortion care."

The Texas lawsuit argues that the federal guidance does more than clarify existing law, stating that it "includes a number of new requirements related to the provision of abortions that do not exist under federal law."

"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."

In a post on its website, Texas Right to Life called the guidance "unnecessary," arguing that abortion bans make exceptions for when the mother's life is in danger. The pro-life advocacy group pointed to what it described as a "clearly defined exception" that Texas has in such cases. 

"The new directive unlawfully takes EMTALA outside its bounds, falsely claiming: '[w]hen a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the life of the pregnant person — or draws the exception more narrowly than EMTALA's emergency medical condition definition — that state law is preempted,'" Texas Right to Life wrote. 

The advocacy group contends that EMTALA doesn't permit the federal government to mandate the types of treatment provided under the act. 

Texas Right to Life Senior Legislative Associate Rebecca Parma accused President Joe Biden of attempting to "weaponize communities' life-saving doctors and hospitals to push his abortion agenda." 

"We look forward to once again beating the Biden administration in court and saving lives," she added. 

This is not the first time that the state of Texas and the Biden administration have filed lawsuits against one another over the abortion issue. 

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas over a law banning abortions after six weeks of gestation. Texas Right to Life Vice President Elizabeth Graham predicted the lawsuit would fail, noting that the Biden administration did not have "jurisdiction to stop the Texas Heartbeat Act." 

The law is still in effect today. 

A 1925 Texas law banning all abortions except for cases when the mother's life is in danger will go into effect this weekend, 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 legal precedent making abortion a national right, according to Fox 44. The Texas Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the law can go into effect after a lower court issued a temporary injunction. 

According to The Texas Tribune, the state Supreme Court's ruling doesn't permit prosecutors to prosecute abortion providers but does leave abortion providers subject to fines and lawsuits. 

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