Home Christian News Texas Judge Blocks HHS Enforcement of Emergency Room Abortions, Cites Religious Objections

Texas Judge Blocks HHS Enforcement of Emergency Room Abortions, Cites Religious Objections

emergency room abortions
Demonstrators march and gather near the Texas state Capitol in Austin after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. A federal judge in Texas issued a ruling on Aug. 23, 2022, temporarily blocking the federal government from enforcing guidance against the state that requires hospitals to provide abortion services if the life of the mother is at risk. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(RNS) — A Texas federal judge has preliminarily blocked enforcement of federal guidance permitting emergency room abortions in the wake of a major Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

At issue in the case, State of Texas v. Xavier Becerra, was a guidance sent to health care providers on July 11 by Becerra, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It stated that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, a 1986 law that mandates doctors to provide emergency health care to the poor, requires physicians to provide abortions even when such actions may violate state law.

“Emergency medical conditions involving pregnant patients may include, but are not limited to, ectopic pregnancy, complications of pregnancy loss, or emergent hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia with severe features,” the guidance reads. “Any state laws or mandates that employ a more restrictive definition of an emergency medical condition are preempted by the EMTALA statute.”

But in issuing the Tuesday (Aug. 23) preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix disagreed and ruled the HHS guidance cannot be enforced within Texas or against members of two organizations who claim religious and conscientious objections to performing abortions.

“Here, the Court finds that there is a substantial likelihood that HHS issued the Guidance unlawfully,” said Hendrix, of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas. “So Texas’s sovereign interest in the continued enforcement of its abortion laws weighs heavily.”

In his 67-page opinion, the judge also questioned the breadth of the guidance, saying its lack of exceptions for health care providers “with genuinely held religious objections to abortions” may run afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The case, the judge noted, raises one of many “novel questions about the interplay of federal and state law” that have arisen in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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Although Texas sought a nationwide injunction on the guidance, the judge — who noted similar issues are being argued before an Idaho court — limited his opinion to the state of Texas and to members of two organizations who had faith-related objections.

Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, welcomed the court ruling.

“Emergency room physicians can, and do, treat ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening conditions,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle, director of the ADF Center for Life, in a statement. Ectopic pregnancies, caused when a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus, are not viable pregnancies and can become life-threatening. Treatment requires termination of the pregnancy.