Health Care

RELEASE: Justices Grapple with Scope and Effect of Conflict Between EMTALA and Idaho’s Near-Total Abortion Ban

WASHINGTON, DC – Following oral argument at the Supreme Court this morning in Idaho v. United States, a case in which the Court is considering whether the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law requiring hospitals to provide stabilizing treatment to patients experiencing medical emergencies, preempts Idaho’s near-total abortion ban in situations where abortion constitutes the medically indicated stabilizing treatment, Constitutional Accountability Center Appellate Counsel Miriam Becker-Cohen issued the following reaction:

This case is not a referendum on abortion or an attempt to relitigate Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. As Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Jackson forcefully emphasized in their questions today, the case presents a very narrow question: when a pregnant person comes to a federally funded hospital with an emergency medical condition—premature rupture of membranes, severe preeclampsia, kidney failure—for which the medically indicated treatment is abortion, must that hospital offer abortion care to stabilize that person’s condition, or must it wait to do so until the patient is on the brink of death?

If the Court follows the text and history of EMTALA, it will conclude that such hospitals must offer abortion care in those rare but critically important circumstances—contrary state laws notwithstanding. As we explained in our amicus brief filed on behalf of 258 Members of Congress, EMTALA’s plain text requires hospitals to provide whatever stabilizing treatment is “necessary to assure, within reasonable medical probability” against “material deterioration of the [patient’s] condition.”

Congress did not carve out abortion from EMTALA’s requirements when it drafted and subsequently amended EMTALA, and neither should the Supreme Court. To the extent that Idaho’s near-total abortion ban conflicts with EMTALA, it must give way to the federal statute under the “entirety of our jurisprudence” on preemption and federal supremacy, as Justice Jackson put it.

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Resources:

Case page in Idaho v. United States: https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/idaho-v-united-states/

Miriam Becker-Cohen, The Biggest Anti-Abortion-Rights Lie Is Back at the Supreme Court, Slate, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2024/03/abortion-rights-lie-supreme-court-comstock.html 

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