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Idaho can enforce strict abortion ban even in emergencies, court rules

Idaho can enforce its abortion ban while a legal fight continues, with arguments to be heard in April.
Idaho can enforce strict abortion ban even in emergencies, Court rules
Posted at 3:50 PM, Jan 05, 2024

The Supreme Court on Friday allowed Idaho to enforce its strict abortion ban, even in medical emergencies, while a legal fight continues.

The justices said they would hear arguments in April and put on hold a lower court ruling that had blocked the Idaho law in hospital emergencies, based on a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration.

Hospitals that receive Medicare funds are required by federal law to provide emergency care, potentially including abortion, no matter if there's a state law banning abortion, the administration argued.

The legal fight followed the court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to severely restrict or ban abortion. The Biden administration issued guidance about the law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, two weeks after the high court ruling in 2022. The Democratic administration sued Idaho a month later.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Idaho agreed with the administration. But in a separate case in Texas, a judge sided with the state.

Idaho makes it a crime with a prison term of up to five years for anyone who performs or assists in an abortion.

The administration argues that EMTALA requires health care providers to perform abortions for emergency room patients when needed to treat an emergency medical condition, even if doing so might conflict with a state's abortion restrictions.

Those conditions include severe bleeding, preeclampsia and certain pregnancy-related infections.

SEE MORE: Thousands of US women stockpile pills amid medication abortion threats

"For certain medical emergencies, abortion care is the necessary stabilizing treatment," Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in an administration filing at the Supreme Court.

The state argued that the administration was misusing a law intended to prevent hospitals from dumping patients and imposing "a federal abortion mandate" on states. "EMTALA says nothing about abortion," Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador told the court in a brief.

Just Tuesday, the federal appeals court in New Orleans came to the same conclusion as Labrador. A three-judge panel ruled that the administration cannot use EMTALA to require hospitals in Texas to provide abortions for women whose lives are at risk due to pregnancy. Two of the three judges are appointees of President Donald Trump, and the other was appointed by another Republican president, George W. Bush.

The appeals court affirmed a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix, also a Trump appointee. Hendrix wrote that adopting the Biden administration's view would force physicians to place the health of the pregnant person over that of the fetus or embryo even though EMTALA "is silent as to abortion."

After Winmill, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton, issued his ruling, Idaho lawmakers won an order allowing the law to be fully enforced from an all-Republican, Trump-appointed panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But a larger contingent of 9th Circuit judges threw out the panel's ruling and had set arguments in the case for late January.

The justices' order on Friday takes the case away from the appeals court. A decision is expected by early summer.

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