In Latest Brief, Nation’s Leading Medical Societies and Public Health Organizations Urge the Court to Reject Texas’s Challenge to EMTALA Guidance

Coalition Affirms that Texas’s Misinterpretation of Federal Law Would Harm Physicians and the Public Interest

Washington, D.C. –Ten of the nation’s leading professional organizations of physicians and public health experts, including the professional societies of emergency physicians and obstetrician-gynecologists, submitted a brief in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s guidance on the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). This brief explains how Texas’s challenge misunderstands both federal law and the on-the-ground practice of emergency medicine and urges the court to reject Texas’s motion to enjoin the guidance. The case is State of Texas v. Becerra.

The brief was filed on behalf of the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the National Medical Association, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine Residents and Students Association. The organizations are represented by Democracy Forward and Debevoise & Plimpton. 

This follows a similar, broad coalition submitting a brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho in support of the U.S. Department of Justice’s challenge to an Idaho law.

The brief explains that, rather than interpreting EMTALA in a novel or new way, the recent federal guidance “simply recognizes the reality of emergency medicine and reassures doctors that they can follow their ethical obligations and federal law without running afoul of state laws. Indeed, interpreting EMTALA any other way would be a novel, dangerous, and unworkable constraint on how emergency medicine is practiced.

Forcing physicians to decide between obeying state law and obeying EMTALA would harm physicians and the public interest. Physicians would be “placed in an untenable lose-lose situation: compliance with one set of obligations necessitates the violation of another. Placing physicians in the ethical impasse of choosing between providing the best available medical care and risking substantial penalties under state law, or protecting themselves and their medical practice, challenges the very core of the Hippocratic Oath: ‘Do no harm.’”

The brief explains how prohibiting physicians from providing clinically indicated emergency care, or forcing them to delay providing that care, would harm pregnant patients. It highlights that the consequences of limiting EMTALA approving Texas’s motion would be “especially devastating for underserved populations, including patients living in rural areas, minoritized populations, and pregnant patients with low incomes.”

Contrary to Texas’s claims, the federal guidance is not an “Abortion Mandate,” nor does it turn emergency rooms into “walk-in abortion clinic[s].” It merely restates physicians’ obligations under federal law and medical ethics, and explains how those obligations may manifest themselves in real-world emergency room situations involving pregnant patients.

Read the brief here.