Democratic states back Biden in fight over emergency abortion guidance

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President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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  • Two lawsuits center on federal law regulating emergency medical treatment
  • States argue new abortion restrictions put patients in danger

(Reuters) - A group of 20 Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia have weighed in to support Biden administration guidance aimed at ensuring that hospitals perform life-saving abortions, which is at the heart of ongoing legal battles between the federal government and two conservative states over their stringent abortion bans.

The states, led by California Attorney General Rob Bonta and New York Attorney General Letitia James, on Tuesday submitted an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief in Lubbock, Texas federal court backing the administration, which is facing a bid by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the guidance.

The same states filed a similar brief Monday in a separate lawsuit brought by the federal government seeking to block Idaho's near-total abortion ban on the grounds that it conflicts with federal requirements for emergency treatment.

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They argued in both briefs that if Texas and Idaho prevail, it "will cause serious patient harms and have spillover effects" as patients seek care in other states, burdening their hospitals.

A spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden declined to comment. The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both lawsuits center on the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law requiring hospitals that receive federal funds to provide care to stabilize anyone who arrives with an emergency medical condition.

In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the guidance telling hospitals that EMTALA preempts any state abortion restrictions. The guidance followed an executive order by President Joe Biden intended to preserve access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, its landmark 1973 decision recognizing a right to abortion nationwide.

About half of states have adopted new laws restricting abortion in the wake of that ruling or are expected to do so, including 13 with so-called "trigger laws" written to take effect automatically when Roe was overturned. Many of the new laws include only narrow exceptions for preserving the life or health of the mother, creating potential conflicts with EMTALA and in some cases resulting in delayed care for conditions like miscarriages.

Texas claimed in its lawsuit that the administration's guidance would require doctors to perform abortions that were illegal in the state.

In its lawsuit against Idaho, the Biden administration is asking a federal judge for an order blocking that state's abortion ban on the grounds that it violates EMTALA.

The Texas case is State of Texas v. Becerra, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, No. 5:22-cv-00185.

For the federal government: Christopher Healy of the U.S. Department of Justice

For Texas: Assistant Attorney General Amy Snow Hilton

The Idaho case is United States v. State of Idaho, U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, No. 1:22-cv-00329.

For the federal government: Lisa Newman of the U.S. Department of Justice

For Idaho: Deputy Attorney General Brian Church

For the states in both cases: New York Assistant Solicitor General Laura Etlinger

Read more:

Abortion ban in Idaho faces first U.S. legal challenge since Roe

Texas sues to block federal guidance on abortions to save mother's life

Federal guidance on life-saving abortions puts doctors in a bind

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.