The Supreme Court may soon face its first major post-Roe abortion case


A federal judge in Idaho sided with the Biden administration on Wednesday when he ruled that doctors who perform abortions in medical emergencies cannot be charged under the ban on Idaho abortion. A day earlier, a federal judge in Texas had come to the opposite conclusion, ruling that the state could ban abortions performed in medical emergencies.

These conflicting district court rulings could end up prompting the Supreme Court to revisit the issue of abortion for the first time since its conservative supermajority overturned the 49-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade. If that happens, the court will place guardrails on the furious assault on abortion rights by right-wing lawmakers across the country, or give their efforts a bright green light.

The Idaho and Texas cases follow an executive order issued by President Joe Biden following the June 24 court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ended national coverage. of the right to abortion.

Biden’s order relates to the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires medical professionals at hospitals accepting Medicaid to act to protect patients with medical emergencies. Her notified administration says she interprets the law as covering abortion care.

This means doctors who perform an abortion to protect a patient with a medical emergency cannot be charged under a state’s abortion ban.

The Justice Department followed this directive by filing a lawsuit against Idaho over its abortion ban’s conflict with EMTALA. While Idaho’s abortion ban provides an exception to protect the life of the mother, the DOJ argued in its legal brief that EMTALA requires physicians to protect the health of a pregnant patient. who is “in grave danger” or risk[s] “serious impairment of bodily functions” or “serious dysfunction of any organ or part of the body”.

“This is not about the past constitutional right to abortion,” wrote U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, appointed by President Bill Clinton, in the Idaho case. “This Court is not grappling with that larger, deeper question. Rather, the Court is called upon to address a much more modest question — whether Idaho’s criminal abortion law conflicts with a small but important corner of federal law. It does.”

An Idaho district court judge has temporarily suspended the state’s ban on abortion for patients facing medical emergencies.

Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The ruling will not prevent Idaho’s abortion ban from taking effect. Rather, it prohibits the state from charging physicians who perform an abortion in a medical emergency under EMTALA unless it can be proven unnecessary.

Things turned out differently in Texas, however. There, state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, filed a lawsuit challenging the application of the executive order to his state’s ban. The Lone Star State has one of the toughest abortion bans in the entire country, with doctors facing life in prison and a minimum fine of $100,000 if found guilty of practicing an abortion. The only exceptions granted are for the life or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function” of the mother.

A ruling by U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix, appointed by President Donald Trump, halted guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that implements the EMTALA provision of the executive order. Hendrix found the counseling “unauthorized” because the law is “silent on abortion.”

Additionally, the doctor has a duty to protect the health and life of the “unborn child,” which is equal to that of the pregnant patient, Hendrix argued.

“Because the physician has a duty to both, EMTALA does not require the physician to present an emergency medical condition to one in order to stabilize the other,” Hendrix wrote. “Again, EMTALA does not say how to balance the two interests. That leaves that decision up to the doctor, who is bound by state law.

If these cases continue to produce conflicting results on appeal, the Supreme Court will likely take up one or both cases on its “ghost folderthis fall to resolve the split between the federal circuit courts.

While Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, hasn’t said whether he plans to appeal the decision, statehouse GOP lawmakers have said they will “pursue all legal means to end this injunction as soon as possible”.

As for the Texas decision, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the department is “considering appropriate next steps.”

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The Supreme Court may soon face its first major post-Roe abortion case




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