Health Care

RELEASE: Supreme Court’s Decision in EMTALA Cases Is “Too Little, Too Late”

WASHINGTON, DC – Following today’s decision at the Supreme Court in Moyle v. United States and Idaho v. United States, two consolidated cases which presented the question of 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:

Today’s decision to dismiss the writs of certiorari before judgment as improvidently granted (DIG) and vacate the stays entered by the Court in January are hardly cause for celebration. The Court cleaned up part of the mess it created by allowing Idaho’s near-total abortion ban to go into effect temporarily, but it refused to protect both long-term access to medically necessary abortions and the supremacy of federal law.

At first blush, the majority’s decision to kick the can down the road might seem like a show of moderation or judicial restraint. But that could not be further from the truth: as Justice Jackson wrote in her concurring and dissenting opinion, the Court’s action, or lack thereof, is “too little, too late.” By putting off a decision on the merits, the Court leaves pregnant patients and their doctors in Idaho in limbo; it lets stand the Fifth Circuit’s open defiance of EMTALA in a parallel case; and it leaves the substantive questions about long-term access to medically necessary abortion care unanswered just months before a presidential election. It also declines to engage with a deeply troubling view of the Spending Clause espoused by Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch in dissent—one that, if embraced by a future majority opinion, could pose a serious threat to our democracy.

As we explained in our amicus brief on behalf of 258 Members of Congress, the text and history of EMTALA make clear that EMTALA mandates that hospitals offer abortion care when abortion constitutes the necessary stabilizing treatment for an individual’s “emergency medical condition.” In those rare but critically important cases, federally funded hospitals must offer abortion care, conflicting state laws notwithstanding. The Court should have decided the question presented today and affirmed the district court’s judgment.

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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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