Appeals court says ER doctors do not have to perform abortions — By: Catholic News Agency

Emergency room intensive care unit. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jan 3, 2024 / 10:40 am (CNA).

A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected the Biden administration’s argument that emergency room doctors should be required to perform abortions under federal medical law.

The legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said on Tuesday that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that “the Biden administration cannot illegally use federal law to force emergency room doctors to perform abortions.”

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra had said in July 2022, shortly after the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, that under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) an emergency room doctor “must provide” abortions to pregnant women if it is determined that abortion constitutes a “stabilizing treatment” under EMTALA.

EMTALA, which was passed in 1986, dictates to Medicare-participating hospitals that “all patients receive an appropriate medical screening examination, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary,” regardless of ability to pay, according to Becerra.

Becerra in his 2022 letter said EMTALA’s alleged abortion requirements preempt any state laws that may prohibit abortion.

ADF filed suit against the directive in 2022, representing the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. In August 2022, a U.S. district court halted the Biden administration’s guidance, with the court ruling that Becerra’s order “goes well beyond EMTALA’s text.”

On Tuesday the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The court pointed out that EMTALA’s text “requires hospitals to stabilize both the pregnant woman and her unborn child” and that the federal law “does not provide an unqualified right for the pregnant mother to abort her child especially when EMTALA imposes equal stabilization obligations.”

Ryan Bangert, ADF senior vice president of strategic initiatives, said the court “correctly ruled that the federal government has no business transforming [emergency rooms] into abortion clinics.”

“Doctors shouldn’t be forced to break the Hippocratic Oath, and they shouldn’t have to choose between violating their deeply held beliefs or facing stiff financial penalties and being barred from the Medicare program,” Bangert said.

“Emergency room physicians can, and do, treat life-threatening conditions such as ectopic pregnancies. But elective abortion is not life-saving care — it ends the life of the unborn child — and the government has no authority to force doctors to perform these dangerous procedures.” 

“We are pleased that the courts are allowing emergency rooms to fulfill their primary function — saving lives,” he added. 

ADF did not immediately respond to a query on Wednesday about the case.

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