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Federal appeals court blocks Biden administration from enforcing guidance meant to protect abortion access in Texas

Originally Published: 02 JAN 24 16:13 ET

Updated: 02 JAN 24 17:23 ET

By Devan Cole, CNN

(CNN) — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Biden administration can’t enforce guidance meant to protect abortion access in life-threatening or health-saving situations even where abortion is banned.

The guidance from the US Department of Health and Human Services says that medical providers who are required to provide emergency care to pregnant patients regardless of their ability to pay for it under a 1986 law must also provide abortion services in life-threatening or health-saving situations and will be protected if those actions violate state law.

It was one of the administration’s preemptive strikes in its response to the US Supreme Court’s 2022 reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Texas challenged the guidance, which cites the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), in federal court. In 2022, a judge blocked HHS from enforcing the guidance in Texas or against members of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists or Christian Medical & Dental Associations.

“The question before the court is whether EMTALA, according to HHS’s Guidance, mandates physicians to provide abortions when that is the necessary stabilizing treatment for an emergency medical condition. It does not. We therefore decline to expand the scope of EMTALA,” Judge Kurt Engelhardt of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the unanimous ruling.

“EMTALA does not mandate any specific type of medical treatment, let alone abortion,” the decision said.

Engelhardt, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, was joined in his ruling by Circuit Judges Cory Wilson, also a Trump appointee, and Leslie Southwick, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush.

US District Judge James Wesley Hendrix had ruled in August 2022 that the guidance was “unauthorized.”

In its lawsuit challenging the guidance, Texas argued that EMTALA does not give the federal government the authority to force health care providers to perform abortions. The law sets standards for the treatment emergency patients must receive at certain health care facilities and threatens civil penalties, as well as loss of the Medicare or Medicaid funding, for violations.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that a district court judge blocked HHS’ enforcement of the Biden administration’s guidance in 2022. This story has also been updated with additional information.

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