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Supreme Court poised to deal major blow to Idaho anti-abortion law

The Supreme Court is reportedly set to allow abortions in emergency instances in Idaho, according to an opinion was briefly posted online.

Bloomberg reported that a copy of the opinion was briefly available on the court’s website on Wednesday and that it showed the majority ruled in favor of reinstating a lower court ruling allowing abortions in emergency cases to protect the life of the mother.

The opinion is no longer posted on the Supreme Court’s website. Earlier on Wednesday, the high court issued opinions in two other cases, and it is expected to release more opinions on Thursday and Friday.

A spokesperson for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group that represented Idaho’s position in the case, told the Washington Examiner that the group will issue a formal response when the decision is officially announced by the high court.

Although the specific details of the opinion aren’t readily available, a ruling for the federal government could have significant implications for the six other states that have enacted similar bans with narrow exceptions for life-threatening circumstances for the mother. The eventual ruling will likely have implications for the 2024 election, as President Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats make abortion a central focus of their platform.

The Biden Department of Health and Human Services argued that abortion procedures in certain extreme circumstances constitute medically stabilizing treatment under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA. The agency has argued that Idaho’s state law prevents doctors from providing such necessary care.

EMTALA was enacted in 1986 following several prominent cases of pregnant women being denied emergency care and delivery due to lack of health insurance. The law requires healthcare providers to facilitate necessary emergency care to a woman and her child in utero.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar on behalf of HHS argued that certain medical emergencies may develop into a life-threatening condition if left untreated, but the law is unclear as to when the physician is legally allowed to induce an abortion in that case.

Josh Turner, chief of constitutional litigation for the state of Idaho, said during oral arguments that no part of the state’s statute required that the medical condition either immediately or certainly threaten the mother in order for an abortion to be provided. Rather, according to Turner, the law intended that medical professionals could use their “good faith medical judgment” for when to perform an abortion procedure.  

Justices Elana Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor pushed back against Turner’s argument in April, saying that the law is too ambiguous in severe cases.

“If objective medical care requires you to treat women who present the potential of serious medical complications, and the abortion is the only thing that can prevent that, you have to do it” under EMTALA, Sotomayor said. “Idaho law says the doctor has to determine not that there’s really a serious medical condition but that the person will die. That’s a huge difference.”

The Supreme Court is poised to issue more rulings on Thursday and Friday as it nears the end of the term.

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