Supreme Court Indicates Punting Idaho Emergency Abortion Case

In a surprising turn of events, a document briefly uploaded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s website suggests that the court will send the case regarding emergency abortion care in Idaho back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Rather than making a definitive decision, the unofficial opinion indicates that the court took the case prematurely in the process.

The Background

The case centers around Idaho’s near-total abortion ban and whether federal law regulating emergency room treatment overrides it. The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Idaho in 2022, arguing that prosecuting physicians under these circumstances would violate the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). EMTALA requires Medicare-funded hospitals to treat patients who come to an emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay.

Supreme Court building

The Ninth Circuit’s Role

Initially, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had scheduled an “en banc” hearing for the case. However, after the state of Idaho and the religious conservative law firm Alliance Defending Freedom asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, the Ninth Circuit hearing was vacated, along with the injunction. Without the injunction, emergency room doctors in Idaho face the full extent of the state’s abortion ban, including penalties of jail time, fines, and the loss of a medical license. Additionally, Idaho’s civil law allows immediate and extended family members to sue for up to $20,000 over an abortion procedure.

The Potential Impact

If the unofficial opinion holds true, it would reinstate the lower court’s injunction, blocking enforcement of the law as it relates to Idaho’s emergency room physicians. However, the ban only contains an exception to save the pregnant patient’s life, not to prevent detrimental health outcomes, such as the loss of future fertility. Without further clarity, doctors in Idaho find it challenging to confidently assess when to safely intervene to save a patient’s life without risking legal consequences.


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