A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the federal government from enforcing a legal interpretation that would require hospitals in the state to provide abortion services if the health or life of the mother is at risk.
Texas sued Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Xavier Becerra last month, arguing that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law commonly referred to as EMTALA, doesn't require doctors to provide abortions if doing so would violate a state law.
In a ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix temporarily blocked the government from enforcing the guidance in Texas, saying the guidance would force physicians to place the health of the pregnant person over that of the fetus or embryo even though EMTALA "is silent as to abortion." He also said the guidance couldn't be enforced against members of two national anti-abortion medical organizations, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.
Performing an abortion creates an "emergency medical condition" in the fetus or embryo, the judge wrote.
"Since the statute is silent on the question, the Guidance cannot answer how doctors should weigh risks to both a mother and her unborn child," the judge's order said. "Nor can it, in doing so, create a conflict with state law where one does not exist. The Guidance was thus unauthorized."
The Department of Health and Human Services said it was reviewing the legal decision to determine its next steps.
A similar case is playing out in Idaho, where a federal judge suggested Monday that the state's abortion ban might violate EMTALA. A ruling in that case is expected later Wednesday.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the Texas decision, "a blow to Texans," saying pregnant women in Texas may now be denied appropriate treatment for conditions such as dangerously high blood pressure or severe bleeding.
"It's wrong, it's backwards, and women may die as a result. The fight is not over," Jean-Pierre said in a prepared statement. "The President will continue to push to require hospitals to provide life-saving and health-preserving reproductive care."
The agency cited EMTALA requirements on medical facilities to determine whether a person seeking treatment might be in labor or whether they face an emergency health situation — or one that could develop into an emergency — and to provide stabilizing treatment.
Texas argued that the EMTALA guidelines also violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says some laws must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest if they affect individuals' religious freedoms.