Idaho Abortion Ban Showdown: Biden Administration v. States Debate

2024-04-21 21:02:17

The case is a showdown between the Biden administration and states that imposed abortion limits after the end of Roe v. Wade. A new abortion ban in Idaho is at the center of the debate.


WASHINGTON – A woman 18 weeks pregnant arrived in distress at an Idaho emergency room.

Her condition – hourglass membranes – was so bad that a miscarriage was inevitable.

Doctors feared running afoul of Idaho’s abortion restrictions if they provided the treatment that is standard in these situations: offered an abortion because the risk of infection was high and the fetus would not survive.

The patient could not travel to another state; she is likely to miscarry during the journey and may bleed to death.

So, she waited.

Several days later, the woman was in the emergency room where, after giving birth to a stillborn baby, she was admitted to the hospital to prevent a rapidly developing infection from spreading.

Doctors with the Idaho Coalition for Safe Health Care shared that case – and others – in a filing with the Supreme Court before Wednesday’s oral argument or a federal law requires hospitals provides emergency treatment overrides state abortion restrictions.

“This ban has broken down the safe system of health care we had in place for our pregnant patients,” says Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, a doctor from Idaho who spoke at a news conference organized by the National Women’s Law Center, who also filed a report. brief to the court.

Idaho officials say the ban reflects the will of state residents. They accuse the Biden administration of illegally trying to ignore it.

“The administration’s radical interpretation of federal law is nothing more than a reckless disregard for Idaho’s right to protect life,” Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador said in a statement.

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Meeting between Biden and states with abortion bans

The consolidated cases, Idaho v. United States and Moyle v. United States, is a showdown between the Biden administration and states that have imposed strict abortion limits after the Supreme Court in 2022 right to an abortion.

This is the Supreme Court’s first chance to overturn state laws restricting abortion that have been in effect since the decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

And it comes one month after the court a challenge to a commonly used abortion-pressing audienceg and as the abortion issue continues to reshape electoral politics, including in Arizona where a almost total prohibition from 1864 is back in the game.

The federal law in question, passed in 1986 to prevent hospitals from turning away patients if they can’t pay, is one of the few tools President Joe Biden had to respond to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Biden directed the US Department of Health and Human Services to make it clear, doctors must provide abortions if necessary in emergency situations to prevent death or serious illness. The law applies to any hospital that receives federal funding, such as through Medicare.

“It’s outrageous, and it’s dangerous,” Biden said of doctors delaying emergency care because of the need to consult with an attorney about whether the care is allowed under state law.

Lower courts are divided

Texas quickly sued the administration.

Weeks later, the Biden administration sued Idaho, which claims that its near-total abortion ban is in direct violation of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). Doctors who violate Idaho law while trying to comply with federal law can face jail time and lose their medical license.

The issue has divided the lower courts.

The Louisiana-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on the texas side, determined in January that the administration cannot use EMTALA to require Texas hospitals to provide emergency care beds.

Conversely, a federal district judge in Idaho said the state could not enforce the part of its ban that applies to emergency care when a patient’s health is at risk. That decision was overturned by three Trump-appointed judges in the California-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — only to be reversed later by the full circuit.

In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and allowed Idaho to fully enforce its law Meantime.

Organ failure, uncontrollable bleeding and permanent reproductive damage

How the justices decide the case could potentially affect abortion restrictions in more than 20 states. Even when bans include medical exceptions, the exceptions may be too vague to provide the certainty patients and doctors need, according to opponents of the ban.

By contrast, the Biden administration says, federal law is clear that hospitals receiving federal funding must provide “necessary stabilizing treatment” when the mother’s health is at risk — not just when she is on the brink of death. Consequences of inaction can include infection, organ failure, uncontrollable bleeding and permanent damage to the reproductive system.

Idaho argues the federal requirement applies only to treatments “available” at a hospital and abortion is not available in Idaho under most circumstances.

“Yet EMTALA leaves the issue of specific treatments for stabilization of care to state law,” the state wrote in its main assignment preview of his oral arguments. Twenty-two states told the court they support Idaho’s position.

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Federal law does not mention abortion

Idaho also argues that while the federal law never specifically mentions abortion, it does provide explicit protection for “unborn children.” For example, the law’s definition of a medical emergency includes one that seriously endangers the “health of the individual (or, with respect to a pregnant woman, the health of the woman or her unborn child).”

The Biden administration and their supporters say Congress added language to make it clear hospitals must provide care to an unborn child even if the woman’s own health is not at risk.

“That language was added to expand access to care for pregnant people, not to limit it,” said Katie O’Connor, director of federal abortion policy for the National Woman’s Law Center.

“Is she bleeding enough? Is she septic enough?

Complaints that pregnant women were turned away from hospitals intensified after Dobbs, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

Most emergency medical workers see pregnant patients during almost every shift, according to the major medical societies that support the administrationincluding the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

While not all pregnancy complications require immediate intervention, many are dangerous.

Cases of ruptured membranes too early in a pregnancy for a fetus to survive averaged just over one a week last year at St. Luke’s Health System in Idaho occurred. Such situations put a patient at high risk of infection, sepsis and bleeding.

Before Idaho’s ban went into effect, doctors acted as quickly as possible to preserve the woman’s health and her future reproductive capacity, Dr. Jim Souza’s, the hospital’s chief physician, said.

“Since then there’s been a lot of second-guessing and hand-wringing,” he said. “’Is she sick? Is she blooming enough? Is she septic enough that I can have this abortion and not risk going to jail and losing my license?”

When Idaho’s law was suspended for medical emergencies last year, only one pregnant patient was transported to another state for care. But after the Supreme Court put the law into full effect in January, six patients with emergency conditions were transferred to other states where they can get abortions, according to Souza.

Doctors are leaving Idaho

Doctors are too leave Idaho, which already had a shortage of doctors. Two hospitals have closed their labor and delivery services.

“It’s not hard to understand why,” Gustafson said. “Because, really, how many doctors are willing to subject themselves to the risk of jail time and civil financial penalties for doing their job?”

But state officials defending the ban told the Supreme Court that if they sided with the Biden administration, doctors would “become essentially unregulated, with their own medical judgment superseding all state laws governing the practice of medicine.”

“The whole point of Dobbs was to give back to the states their authority to regulate abortion,” Labrador and the state’s other attorneys wrote in their final brief. “Yet the administration seeks to thwart Idaho’s exercise of self-government on this important topic.”

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