Jan 5, 2024 - Health

Supreme Court will consider if emergency abortions must be provided

A photo of demonstrators outside the Supreme Court

Photo: Washington Post via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday said it will consider whether a federal emergency care law requires doctors to provide life-saving abortions, even in states with strict bans on the procedure.

The big picture: Doctors' ability to provide emergency abortion care they deem medically necessary has been in question in states with total or near-total bans since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

  • The Supreme Court on Friday lifted a stay that had blocked Idaho from enforcing its strict abortion ban in certain emergency situations and said it will hear oral arguments in April.
  • It's the second abortion case the justices will hear this term after agreeing to review a decision that limited access to the widely used abortion pill mifepristone.

Context: Shortly after Roe was overturned, the Biden administration issued guidance saying that a 1986 federal law that requires hospitals to provide stabilizing care to patients protected health providers who performed abortions in emergency situations, regardless of state restrictions.

  • The Biden administration sued Idaho months later over its strict law, which subjects abortion providers to criminal penalties. The Idaho law has a narrow exception that allows abortions to save a mother's life, but critics have said the statute is vaguely worded.
  • A federal judge sided with the Biden administration in 2022 and partly blocked the Idaho law on the grounds it conflicts with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA.
  • A panel of judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then put the ruling on hold before a larger panel in the same circuit later blocked the law during the appeals process.

In a similar case this week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EMTALA did not preempt Texas' strict abortion ban.

  • Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates, patients and doctors have filed several lawsuits over exceptions to states' strict abortion bans, arguing the statutes are ambiguous and have resulted in denied or delayed care, jeopardizing patients' health.
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