SAY WHAT? - Reproductive rights advocates on Wednesday warned that pregnant people across Texas are now at risk of facing life-threatening health crises without access to emergency abortion care, following a ruling by a federal judge who rejected guidance from the Biden administration.
U.S. District Judge James Hendrix's ruling Tuesday night rejected guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that—regardless of the state's abortion ban—would require Texas doctors to perform abortions in the case of a medical emergency.
Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court's right-wing majority in June, HHS issued guidance saying the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) requires medical professionals to provide abortion care to a pregnant patient experiencing a medical emergency.
The 1986 law requires anyone who comes to a hospital's emergency department to be "stabilized and treated," and the Biden administration argued that abortion care qualifies as stabilizing treatment for a pregnant person in a medical crisis.
Hendrix, who was appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump, sided with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and two doctors' associations in Texas which support forced pregnancy.
The ruling was handed down a month after the story of Houston resident Elizabeth Weller became public. Weller experienced a premature rupture of membranes at 18 weeks of pregnancy, causing her own health and that of her fetus to decline. Weller was told that under Texas's abortion ban, she would have to wait until the fetal heartbeat stopped before having a medical abortion, even as her condition worsened. An ethics committee at her local hospital eventually determined she could receive care—after an ordeal she described to NPR as a "dystopian nightmare."
Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Alexis McGill Johnson warned women across Texas could face similar experiences as the state is permitted to reject the HHS guidance.
"How close to death is close enough?" Johnson asked. "Extremist anti-abortion politicians in Texas are trying to prevent pregnant people experiencing medical emergencies from receiving life-saving care, despite the fact that federal law requires most hospitals to provide that treatment. Politicians may think they know better than doctors, but doctors should not have to try to figure out how to be lawyers in order to save lives."
Hendrix did not enjoin the guidance nationwide, and Planned Parenthood noted that "EMTALA remains federal law and requires most hospitals to provide emergency medical care, including care related to pregnancy."
A ruling in a similar case in Idaho, in which the Biden administration argued EMTALA preempts the state's six-week abortion ban, is expected this week.
Paxton applauded Hendrix's ruling, leading Texas-based journalist Mary Tuma to point out the attorney general "oversees a state that holds a higher-than-average maternal mortality rate" and was now celebrating reduced access to "life-saving abortion care."
The White House responded to the ruling by promising, "The fight is not over."
"The president will continue to push to require hospitals to provide life-saving and health-preserving reproductive care," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
(Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams where this story was published.)