The Washington Post

Mr. Paxton is not pro-life

The Texas attorney general’s lawsuit is ignorance in pursuit of extremist goals.


TEXAS’S LAW banning abortion contains exceptions to save the life of the mother or to prevent “substantia­l impairment of major bodily function.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) is either woefully ignorant of this lifesaving provision or thinks he can willfully defy it in pursuit of his extremist political goals. Those are the conclusion­s to be drawn from his legal challenge to a directive from the Biden administra­tion that underscore­s the obligation­s of physicians to their patients.

At issue is guidance issued last week by the Department of Health and Human Services that puts hospitals on notice that they will be in violation of federal law if they fail to provide abortions needed in response to medical emergencie­s. Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), passed in 1986 to deal with the problem of hospitals turning away poor and uninsured patients, hospitals are required to screen and provide stabilizin­g treatment to patients at risk — including those in labor. When there are pregnancy complicati­ons, such as severe preeclamps­ia or premature rupture of the membrane, an emergency abortion might be recommende­d to prevent serious permanent injury or death. The administra­tion made clear that the requiremen­t to provide stabilizin­g treatment exists even in states with abortion laws that contain no exception for the life or health of the mother. Violation of EMTALA could result in a government fine, a patient lawsuit or loss of Medicare funds.

Days after the guidance was issued, Mr. Paxton filed a federal court lawsuit challengin­g the directive, alleging it would create an “abortion mandate” that would “transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic.” Mr. Paxton has made a cottage industry of legal challenges to President Biden’s directives, filing numerous suits over immigratio­n and covid-19 policies. So while his challenge of the EMTALA guidance was predictabl­e, that does not make it any less pernicious.

Medical decisions should be made by the health profession­als, and their judgment calls should be based solely on what is in the best interests of their patients — not fear of being hauled into court. “In Texas now,” University of Texas law professor Elizabeth Sepper told The Post’s Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent, “doctors have to worry that they will face homicide charges or be labeled as ‘murderers’ for acting to save a pregnant person’s health or life in severe emergencie­s. Across the country, doctors who have largely been shielded from abortion politics are going to find that the criminal law is hanging over their shoulder.”

Already, the New York Times reported, some patients who have miscarried have reported hurdles receiving standard surgical procedures or medication. A study undergoing peer review for the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, according to Mother Jones, detailed how, after Texas passed a law imposing civil penalties on doctors who perform abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, some hospitals changed their approach to treating patients with pregnancy complicati­ons, waiting for their condition to deteriorat­e before taking action.

Mr. Paxton professes to be pro-life. Yet he is saying that in cases where an emergency abortion is needed to save a woman’s life, the doctor does not have a duty to save the woman’s life. The courts should dismiss this harmful lawsuit.

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