Fears Grow of Another Supreme Court Attack on Abortion Rights After Idaho Ruling

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Reproductive rights advocates on Wednesday applauded a federal court ruling in Idaho that allows doctors to provide abortion care in cases of medical emergencies, but legal experts warned the decision could mark the beginning of the next fight for the right to abortion in the US Supreme Court

Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the Federal District Court for Idaho ruled that the state’s near total ban on abortion care violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986 (EMTALA), siding with the US Department of Justice.

“Judges could easily decide an EMTALA-related case in September, even before the new term begins.”

The DOJ sued Idaho over the ban, arguing that under EMTALA, doctors must provide stabilizing medical treatment to anyone who comes to an emergency department, and that includes pregnant patients who need abortions to treat medical emergencies.

Idaho’s ban requires doctors to do “the opposite” of what they are trained and required to do, Winmill said: “effectively identify problems and treat them promptly so patients are stabilized before a life-threatening emergency develops.” “.

The ruling still allowed Idaho’s ban on nearly all abortion services to go forward, but enforcement of the emergency care ban will be blocked by Winmill’s preliminary injunction as the Justice Department lawsuit proceeds.

“Thanks to this ruling, Idaho hospital emergency departments cannot deny abortions to patients experiencing a medical emergency,” the Planned Parenthood Action Fund said, while the group’s president, Alexis McGill Johnson, tweeted: “We applaud this ruling.”

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The decision came a day after a federal judge in Texas ruled against a Biden administration directive that doctors in states that ban abortion follow EMTALA and provide emergency care to pregnant people, which brought in legal observers, including BoardMark Joseph Stern to warn that the Supreme Court will likely take up the issue in the coming months.

If the cases proceed to circuit courts in Texas and Idaho, Stern said, they will also likely issue conflicting rulings.

As journalist Chris Geidner wrote in law idiot:

It’s not yet clear what happens next, but if Idaho appeals, that case would go to the reliably liberal 9th ​​Circuit US Court of Appeals, which would likely uphold Winmill’s ruling. If the Justice Department appeals the Texas ruling, that case would go to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is a step beyond conservative according to the panel and would almost certainly uphold Hendrix’s ruling.

At that point, either or both could petition the Supreme Court, perhaps even on the shadow docket, if the appeal to the circuit courts actually seeks a stay of the district court’s ruling on appeal. . If that happens, the judges could easily be deciding an EMTALA-related case in September, even before the new term begins.

In response to the Idaho ruling, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the DOJ “will continue to use every tool at its disposal to defend reproductive rights protected under federal law” and that it is “considering appropriate next steps” regarding the Texas ruling.

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Steven Mazie, who covers the Supreme Court for The Economisthe suggested that cases could depend on “what counts as a medical emergency.”

“I cannot believe that in a matter of months we have gone from losing the constitutional right to abortion to debating whether doctors can provide vital care to patients,” he added. said Kate Smith, senior director of news content for Planned Parenthood.