New Orleans — On January 2, 2024, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in Texas v. Becerra that Texas can ban emergency abortions in spite of a federal law known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). After the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent hospitals guidance, reminding them of their obligation to offer stabilizing care, including medically necessary abortions, under EMTALA. Texas sued, saying this was tantamount to a “nationwide mandate that every hospital and emergency-room physician perform abortions.”

In August 2022, a federal district judge in Lubbock agreed with Texas, saying this guidance amounted to a new interpretation of EMTALA and granting a temporary injunction that was later extended. That decision was appealed by the Biden administration to the Fifth Circuit. On behalf of six of the nation’s leading professional organizations of physicians and public health experts, including the professional societies of emergency physicians and obstetrician-gynecologists, Democracy Forward in May of 2023 submitted a brief in the Fifth Circuit in support of the HHS guidance on EMTALA.

The Fifth Circuit then heard arguments in November of 2023 before issuing its decision yesterday. 

In response to the decision, President & CEO Skye Perryman released the following statement: 

“The Fifth Circuit’s ruling is the latest blow to women in need of essential, life-saving health care. EMTALA was enacted with bipartisan support and has governed emergency care for decades. There is nothing novel about requiring physicians who are treating patients with serious emergency medical conditions to provide treatment that will stabilize those conditions, rather than allowing their patients’ health to deteriorate. Texas’ efforts to confuse and conflate these issues is merely an attempt to distract from its apparent position — evident in a range of tragic cases — that women in need of emergency care should not be able to access that care. This decision ultimately puts physicians in an untenable position forcing them to refrain from treating a pregnant patient until they are at death’s door, and will result in increased maternal morbidity, more women unable to have children in the future, and—worst of all, preventable deaths.”