Supreme Court allows emergency abortion access in Idaho for now

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a ruling that will allow emergency abortion access in Idaho, for now, despite the state's near-total ban on the procedure.

The court dismissed the case without considering the core issues, instead sending it back to the lower courts for further proceedings.

The move reinstates a federal district court's ruling that a federal law requiring emergency rooms to provide stabilizing care to all patients preempts Idaho's abortion ban when a woman's health is at risk.

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Idaho's Defense of Life Act, enacted in 2022 after the fall of Roe v. Wade, prohibits nearly all abortions with exceptions only in reported cases of rape, incest or to prevent the death of the mother.

The Biden administration argued before the court the law is in conflict with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, which requires hospitals receiving Medicare funds to provide “necessary stabilizing treatment."

But, Justice Elena Kagan argued, Idaho allows abortions only when necessary to prevent a pregnant woman’s death.

"By their terms, the two laws differ," she wrote. "What falls in the gap between them are cases in which continuing a pregnancy does not put a woman’s life in danger, but still places her at risk of grave health consequences, including loss of fertility. In that situation, federal law requires a hospital to offer an abortion, whereas Idaho law prohibits that emergency care."

PHOTO: The Supreme Court, June 26, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images)
PHOTO: The Supreme Court, June 26, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images)

Justice Samuel Alito criticized the court for dismissing the case, arguing the government's preemption argument is "plainly unsound."

"Apparently, the Court has simply lost the will to decide the easy but emotional and highly politicized question that the case presents. That is regrettable, " Alito wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.

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Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador said despite the court's ruling, the state will still be able "enforce its law to save lives in the vast majority of circumstances" while litigation continues.

"I remain committed to protect unborn life and ensure women in Idaho receive necessary medical care, and I will continue my outreach to doctors and hospitals across Idaho to ensure that they understand what our law requires," Labrador said in a statement. "We look forward to ending this administration’s relentless overreach into Idahoans’ right to protect and defend life.”

The case marked the first time the high court has ruled in a case regarding state-level abortion restrictions passed after its conservative majority struck down Roe v. Wade in 2022. Since then, 21 states have successfully enacted restrictions or bans on abortion and 14 of those states have total bans with few exceptions.

President Joe Biden said that while the ruling will ensure emergency abortion access in Idaho for now, it is part of a dangerous trend of restrictions passed by Republican lawmakers over the past two years.

"No woman should be denied care, made to wait until she’s near death, or forced to flee her home state just to receive the health care she needs," Biden said. "This should never happen in America."

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