U.S. Supreme Court declines to decide whether federal law requires hospitals in states with abortion bans to provide emergency abortion care to save the health of pregnant patients

June 27, 2024

Gabbi Pierce, Communications Manager
[email protected]

SCOTUS sends the case back to the lower courts for further litigation and reinstates the district court’s stay temporarily permitting emergency abortion care to save the health of pregnant patients

Saint Paul, Minn.—

Months after lifting a District Court ruling that would have ensured pregnant people in Idaho could get the emergency care they need, the U.S. Supreme Court changed its mind and decided not to make a determination on the merits of the case. The Court reinstated a lower court’s ruling permitting doctors to provide emergency abortion care even where such care conflicts with Idaho’s abortion ban, but not before a number of women had to be airlifted out of Idaho to receive emergency health care in other states because of SCOTUS’ initial decision.

Jess Braverman, legal director at Gender Justice issued the following statement:

“Today’s ruling exacerbates a public health crisis, placing the health and well-being of countless Americans at risk. By punting on what should be a straight-forward ruling, the Supreme Court effectively condones the denial of emergency abortion care, sending a dangerous message that pregnant individuals’ lives are expendable in the face of extreme anti-abortion legislation.

“Abortion care is still available in Minnesota, where the right is protected. Yet, as we witness relentless efforts by anti-abortion extremists to dismantle abortion rights nationwide, it’s critical that Minnesota take proactive steps to protect our right to bodily autonomy. We urge state lawmakers to prioritize passage of the Minnesota Equal Rights Amendment in 2025 and enshrine the right to an abortion in our state constitution to ensure Minnesotans’ access to life-saving health care cannot be rolled back by future judges.”

Today’s ruling comes after the Court heard oral arguments on April 24 in the consolidated cases, Idaho v. United States and Moyle v. United States, to determine whether EMTALA preempts Idaho’s law criminalizing most abortions in the state. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) is a nearly 40-year-old federal law designed to ensure that patients in need of emergency medical care are not turned away from emergency rooms equipped to treat them. The requirements of EMTALA to provide stabilizing care to patients in emergency rooms conflicts with extreme abortion bans in states like Idaho because EMTALA requires emergency stabilizing abortion care that is prohibited by the bans.

In Minnesota, this ruling will not impact access to care, as the right to abortion – including in cases of emergency – is protected by the Minnesota Constitution.

In her dissent, Justice Jackson noted there was no reason for the court to punt on the merits of the case, causing chaos, uncertainty, and further harm to pregnant people and physicians. It is notable that this decision comes ahead of the 2024 election; the Supreme Court’s 2022 opinion overturning Roe v. Wade had powerful political repercussions for anti-abortion conservatives. In her partial dissent, Justice Jackson alluded to the timing of the Court’s unusual decision not to rule on the case after oral argument asking, “Will this Court just have a do-over, rehearing and rehashing the same arguments we are considering now, just at a comparatively more convenient point in time?”


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