Supreme Court allows emergency abortions in Idaho for now

Idaho hospitals that receive federal funds must allow emergency abortion care to stabilize patients, even though the state strictly prohibits the procedure, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday, a day after another. after the notice was prematurely published on its website.

The court’s unsigned ruling does not address the merits of the case. Instead, while the litigation continues, the justices temporarily reinstated a lower court ruling that allowed hospitals to perform emergency abortions without facing prosecution under the ban on abortion. abortion in Idaho.

At issue is the nearly four-decade-old Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, known as EMTALA, which requires some hospitals to stabilize or transfer patients in need of emergency care.

The Biden administration sued Idaho in 2022, claiming the state’s strict abortion ban conflicted with federal law that requires emergency abortions if necessary to address health concerns threatening events before death, such as organ failure or loss of fertility.

Abortion rights groups portray the ruling as a temporary victory that guarantees emergency care in Idaho for now, but does not resolve the question of whether federal law preempts strict bans on abortions. States, including in other States.

The Idaho case was one of two cases brought before the high court this term to address abortion access nationwide, two years after the justices overturned the decision. Roe v. Wadewhich guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. In early June, the justices unanimously rejected a challenge to mifepristone, a widely used abortion drug, saying the anti-abortion doctors who brought the suit lacked standing to do so.

The Biden administration first turned to EMTALA in late 2021 to try to ensure access to abortion in limited situations. This effort intensified after the Supreme Court’s reversal Deer the following summer.

In July 2022, the administration told hospitals receiving Medicare funds that emergency room doctors must terminate a pregnancy in certain circumstances, even if state law prohibits the procedure. Hospitals that fail to comply face penalties of up to $120,000 per violation.

The White House and abortion rights advocates say the administration is enforcing the emergency care law as it was originally designed, pointing to years-old cases that they say , show a consistent application pattern.

Idaho bans all abortions except those necessary “to prevent the death of the pregnant woman” and imposes penalties of up to five years on doctors who perform the procedure. There have been heartbreaking reports of hospitals turning away women with high-risk pregnancy complications. Health workers reported uncertainty and confusion about when the state’s abortion ban would apply, leading to delays in some procedures.

Conservatives and abortion opponents say the administration is misrepresenting EMTALA’s intent to guarantee access to abortion after Roe.

The text of the federal law requires hospitals to provide “any person” with an emergency medical condition “such treatment as may be necessary to stabilize his or her medical condition.” There is no reference to abortion in the law or any other type of care, and GOP officials say the Biden administration cannot use EMTALA to force hospitals that receive federal funds to violate any state law.

Trial courts have issued conflicting decisions on the application of federal law. In August 2022, a district judge sided with the Biden administration and temporarily blocked the contested provision of Idaho law. The judge upheld the state’s ban on most abortions but said that because of hospitals’ obligation under a conflicting federal law, a doctor cannot be punished for performing one abortion in order to protect the health of a patient.

Then, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit allowed the state to enforce the law — before a full complement of judges from the same appeals court again blocked Idaho’s ability to punish emergency doctors while appeals continued.

The Supreme Court agreed in January to take up the case, Idaho v. United States, in response to Idaho’s emergency request and allowed the law to take effect while litigation continued.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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