Supreme Court set for next abortion fight

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At stake is whether a federal emergency care law passed 37 years ago trumps state laws that ban abortion in nearly all circumstances.   


Idaho’s abortion ban is one of the strictest in the country and provides a narrow exemption only to save the life of the pregnant patient. The Biden administration sued Idaho just weeks after the Dobbs ruling overturned Roe.    


The Justice Department contends the law requires hospitals that receive Medicare funding to provide an abortion if necessary to stabilize the health of an emergency room patient, regardless of state abortion bans.   


Conservatives say the administration is trying to use the law to create a national abortion mandate for hospitals. They argue federal law doesn’t dictate the kind of care people receive, only that they are stabilized. 


The case centers around a federal law known as EMTALA — the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act — which requires federally funded hospitals to provide stabilizing care to emergency room patients no matter their ability to pay.   


The Biden administration invoked EMTALA in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade as a way to ensure abortion access would be protected in limited circumstances. The administration argues state laws or mandates that employ a more restrictive definition of an emergency medical condition are preempted by the federal statute.   


“Many pregnancy complications do not pose a threat to the woman’s life when she arrives at the emergency room — but delaying care until necessary to prevent her death could allow her condition to deteriorate, placing her at risk of acute and long-term complications,” the Justice Department said in its brief.   


EMTALA doesn’t specifically mention abortion, which conservatives say undercuts the Justice Department’s case.  


“EMTALA says nothing about abortion. Congress has not silently mandated abortions that it won’t pay for, especially not in a statute amended to protect a pregnant mother’s unborn child,” attorneys for Mike Moyle (R), Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, wrote in a brief. 

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