June 28, 2024

Supreme Court okays exceptions to Idaho's abortion ban

The U.S. Supreme Court says that Idaho doctors must be allowed to perform emergency abortions, despite the state's abortion ban. 

Fox News reports that the justices released their decision in the case on Thursday, the day after the court accidentally released on its website a draft of the opinion.

The case is actually two cases: Moyle v. United States and Idaho v. United States. The two cases were consolidated into one.

As we will see, although the justices are allowing emergency abortions for now, their ruling may eventually be reversed.


The reader will likely remember that the Supreme Court, in 2022, overturned the landmark pro-abortion case Roe v. Wade, returning the hot-button issue to the people and their state representatives.

Following that ruling, some states - particularly Republican-led states - enacted anti-abortion legislation. One of these states was Idaho.

Idaho passed the Defense of Life Act, which, according to ABC News, "prohibits nearly all abortions with exceptions only in reported cases of rape, incest, or to prevent the death of the mother." If a doctor does perform an abortion that does not fall under such an exception, then that doctor would be criminally prosecuted.

The law was subsequently challenged by, among others, President Joe Biden's Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ has argued that Idaho's law does not provide enough exceptions for medical emergencies.

Fox reports:

The DOJ sued the state, saying that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) requires health care providers to give "stabilizing treatment" — including abortions — for patients when needed to treat an emergency medical condition, even if doing so might conflict with a state's abortion restrictions.

The Supreme Court's ruling

What the members of the Supreme Court actually did in their ruling is send the matter back to the lower courts, where it will continue to be litigated. This means that the case could, once again, end up at the Supreme Court after the litigation concludes.

But, the question was how to handle the situation in the meantime. Here, the Supreme Court ruled that, while the case continues to be litigated, Idaho doctors must be allowed to perform emergency abortions to the same extent that such abortions are allowed under federal law.

Not all members of the Supreme Court agree with this decision. Some, including Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, thought the Supreme Court should have ruled on the merits of the case.

"[T]he underlying issue in this case — whether EMTALA requires hospitals to perform abortions in some circumstances — is a straightforward question of statutory interpretation. It is squarely presented by the decision below, and it has been exhaustively briefed and argued," they wrote.

They added, "Everything there is to say about the statutory interpretation question has probably been said many times over. That question is as ripe for decision as it ever will be. 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."

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