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August 25th, 2022:

Restraining order granted in Paxton’s EMTALA lawsuit

Ugh.

Texas hospitals will not be required to provide emergency abortions after a federal judge ruled the Biden administration was unauthorized to enforce such a rule.

U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix in Lubbock ruled that the guidance by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services went beyond the text of a related federal law, Reuters reported. The judge’s ruling agreed with Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Hendrix, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, only barred federal regulators from enforcing the guidance and its interpretation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act in Texas, and against two anti-abortion groups of doctors. The judge declined to enjoin the guidance nationwide.

[…]

The Biden administration’s guidance was an attempted response to concerns about the health of pregnant patients being turned away or delayed care by hospitals worried about abortion bans. The Texas Medical Association wrote a letter asking state regulators to “prevent any wrongful intrusion into the practice of medicine.”

See here for the background. At least this time it’s just limited to the state and not nationwide, though of course it’s our effed-up state that needed this to be decided differently. As TPM notes, there’s a similar case in Idaho that may have a ruling by the time you read this, so we’re going to be fighting this out in the appeals courts and then very likely SCOTUS. Joy.

I often say that I Am Not A Lawyer in posts about legal things. I say that in part to make it clear that my analysis is that of a layperson, and one should be wary of accepting my acumen of the finer points of legal theory. But that also frees me to an extent of the concern about the technicalities and lets me just focus on the things that should matter, whether they actually will in a real courtroom or not. As a prime example of this, let’s look at a bit of the judge’s ruling. I’m quoting from that TPM story now:

“That Guidance goes well beyond EMTALA’s text, which protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent as to abortion, and preempts state law only when the two directly conflict,” Hendrix writes.

Siding with the two groups of anti-abortion physicians as well as the state of Texas, Hendrix writes that the HHS guidance requiring physicians to act when the woman’s health is at risk is too generous.

“The Guidance states that EMTALA may require an abortion when the health of the pregnant woman is in serious jeopardy,” he says. “Texas law, on the other hand, limits abortions to when the medical condition is life-threatening, and HLPA goes further to expressly limit the condition to a physical condition,” he adds, referring to Texas’ trigger law that outlaws abortions in most cases.

He argues that the guidance also does away with consideration for the embryo or fetus. The government contends that, when the wellbeing of the woman and embryo or fetus are in conflict, it should be the pregnant patient who decides whether or not to go forth with an abortion. Hendrix says that the decision should be taken out of the woman’s hands and put into the doctor’s — who has to then comply with state law.

He also dips into agency power arguments to hack back the guidance, claiming that Congress has not resolved the specific question at play.

“Specifically, the question at issue here is whether Congress has directly addressed whether physicians must perform abortions when they believe that it would resolve a pregnant woman’s emergency medical condition, irrespective of the unborn child’s health and state law,” he writes. “Congress has not.”

In other words, unless you the doctor who may get prosecuted for murder are sure the pregnant person is going to die, you have to let them suffer. I don’t care about the legal technicalities, I’m here to say that if you’re capable of committing these words to a document, you’re a goddamned sociopath and you have no business having power of any kind. That of course also applies to Ken Paxton and Greg Abbott and every single member of the Legislature who voted for these barbaric laws. It’s what this election is about. And I should note that Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who is an actual lawyer, sees this the same way I do. So there. Daily Kos and CNN have more.

There’s still a lot of confusion about how Texas’ abortion ban will be enforced

There will be chaos, in addition to the fear and danger to pregnant people that already exists.

Abortions are already effectively outlawed in Texas, where clinics closed after the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. But a new law takes effect Thursday that makes performing the procedure a felony, punishable by up to life in prison and fines of at least $100,000. There are no exemptions for rape, incest or fetal anomaly — only for when the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

It’s not clear how many prosecutions will materialize or even how police will handle complaints. But the first cases will test the bounds of a sweeping new law that is prompting fear and confusion for patients, their families and the medical community alike. Experts say the few abortions that do occur in Texas are now carried out in hospitals during emergencies, or at home with medication obtained online or through other means. Pregnant women cannot be prosecuted.

“Are they going to be going after doctors who perform emergency abortions? What does that look like?” said Joanna Grossman, a professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

So far, Attorney General Ken Paxton has been the most bullish about enforcement. His office can only enforce the six-figure civil fines, but he offered to help local prosecutors bring criminal charges under the state’s abortion ban.

“I will do everything in my power to protect mothers, families, and unborn children, and to uphold the state laws duly enacted by the Texas Legislature,” Paxton, aRepublican up for a third term in November, said in an advisory.

[…]

In Tarrant and Denton County, officials said prosecutors will evaluate each case and present it to a grand jury only if the facts warrant prosecution. Neither office specified what circumstances might qualify.

“Prosecutors do not make the law – we follow it,” Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson said in a written statement. “We followed Roe v. Wade when it was the law and we will follow Texas state law now.”

“Police agencies bring us cases, we don’t go out and investigate cases ourselves,” said Denton County First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck. “If an agency brings us a case that deals with this issue and these laws, we will treat it like any other case.”

Yet, how the police will handle complaints remains a question mark.

Some city councils, including in Dallas and Denton, voted to restrict the resources that can be used to investigate abortions or request that police deprioritize those cases. Several police groups said they don’t know how enforcement will work, and one questioned whether law enforcement would want to be involved at all.

“They are extremely difficult investigations and there’s all kinds of politics surrounding it,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association. “It’s a lot easier to say something is illegal than to actually prosecute someone for it.”

In Dallas, Police Chief Eddie García said that depending on priority and call type, there will be instances “that we may have to respond and take a report.” But he echoed the uncertainty, saying it’s “too soon to tell how the state plans to enforce this new law, and who will be enforcing it.”

While almost every felony complaint is looked into, final decisions about how to proceed rest with district attorneys, said James McLaughlin Jr., executive director and general counsel for the Texas Police Chiefs Association. “What proof would they want to see in order to accept a case?” he said. “We’re pretty used to filing burglary cases, robbery cases, homicide cases, but this is different.”

We’ve talked about this in various forms. Dallas County’s DA, along with several other large county DAs (not, as far as I know, including Harris County, at least at this time), has said he won’t pursue prosecutions of abortion-related charges. Which is nice and noble and morally correct and certain to be turned into roadkill by the next Legislature if they have the power to do so. It’s interesting to see what these cops are saying about investigating abortion-related allegations – as we have discussed, they can seek out evidence in various privacy-intruding ways, but we just don’t know yet what they actually will do. Again, the Lege is sure to meddle in this if they can. We also have the TDCAA’s analysis and guidance on Texas’ new laws that criminalize abortion, which among other things show that the zeal to continuously be passing anti-abortion laws has introduced quite a bit of chaos and more than a little potential for contradictions and double jeopardy possibilities. The courts are going to have so much fun with all this. That touched on the vigilant bounty hunter law SB8, which so far as served only as a tool of intimidation rather than of enforcement. But with the “trigger” law going into effect today, it’s a whole new ball game. And just a matter of time before someone gets arrested.

UPDATE: The Trib now has a story on the enabling of the trigger law. The 19th notes that four other states have similar laws coming online this week.

Kemp’s ridley turtles making a comeback

We deserve a little good news.

For the first time in 75 years, hatchlings of the world’s smallest sea turtle species have been discovered on the Chandeleur Islands, a chain of barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of New Orleans.

Wildlife experts at the Breton national wildlife refuge have documented more than 53 turtle crawls and two live hatchlings that were navigating towards the sea, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority announced in a press statement this week.

The news was particularly uplifting for environmentalists because the hatchlings were Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, an endangered species that also happens to be the world’s smallest sea turtle. The turtles are predominantly found in the Gulf, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Their population flourished during the early 1900s as tens of thousands of females nested in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. However, from the mid-1900s to the 1980s, their population dropped drastically, reaching a low of only several hundred females.

Some of the major threats Kemp’s ridleys face include being caught unintentionally by fishers, being harvested or having their eggs harvested, degradation of their nesting habitats, natural predators preying on their eggs and hatchlings, being struck by sea vessels, ocean pollution and climate change.

The recent discovery of the hatchlings in Louisiana is particularly significant as 95% of the nesting take place in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

“Louisiana was largely written off as a nesting spot for sea turtles decades ago, but this determination demonstrates why barrier island restoration is so important,” said the coastal authority’s chairman, Chip Kline.

He added: “As we develop and implement projects statewide, we are always keeping in mind what’s needed to preserve our communities and enhance wildlife habitat. Having this knowledge now allows us to make sure these turtles and other wildlife return to our shores year after year.”

Times were especially tough for the Kemp’s ridleys after the BP oils spill in 2010, as I noted here and here. This doesn’t mean that they’re out of trouble, but it is a very good sign of progress. That’s worth celebrating.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 22

There is still nothing classified as Top Secret in the Texas Progressive Alliance weekly roudup.

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