ACLU Brief in Emergency Abortion Care Case Highlights Idaho Politicians' Deeply Flawed Legal Arguments

Affiliate: ACLU of Idaho
March 28, 2024 1:30 pm

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Idaho, and the law firm Cooley LLP filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court today in Idaho and Moyle, et al. v. United States. The case was brought to the nation’s highest court by Idaho politicians seeking to disregard a federal statute — the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) — and put doctors in jail for providing pregnant patients necessary emergency medical care. The amicus brief filed today explains that Idaho’s arguments cannot be justified under the Supreme Court’s own precedents, and that all three branches of government have long recognized that hospitals are required under EMTALA to provide emergency abortion care to any patient who needs it. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on this case on April 24, 2024, and a decision is expected by the summer. The Court’s ultimate decision will impact access to this essential care across the country.

“Less than two years after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, extremist politicians are back for more. Now, they are asking the Court for the right to send doctors to jail for providing abortion care during a medical emergency. But federal law has long required hospitals to provide emergency care to anyone who needs it, regardless of where they live,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “There is no carve out from EMTALA for abortion that would force doctors to stand by helplessly and withhold this critical care from their patients, but that’s exactly what anti-abortion politicians want to see happen. This case shows, once again, the extreme lengths some politicians will go to endanger the health and lives of pregnant people, and, ultimately, ban abortion nationwide.”

“We are seeing that banning abortion in Idaho to score easy political points in a state known for its tolerance of far-right extremists has devastating effects on the health care system and pregnant patients,” said Leo Morales, Executive Director of the ACLU of Idaho. “We are confident the U.S. Supreme Court can appreciate the gravity that this decision will have on all Idahoans, and urge the Court to recognize federal law protects the rights of all individuals to emergency treatment. We at the ACLU of Idaho are proud to support this important case and will continue to fight in the courts and in the state house for Idahoans’ ability to access necessary reproductive health care, and for medical providers to provide care unencumbered by government overreach.”

“EMTALA provides important and longstanding protections for all patients with emergency conditions and has no carve-out for the rare circumstances in which emergency abortion care is required,” said Kathleen R. Hartnett, partner at Cooley LLP. “If doctors are prevented from providing emergency abortion care, people can suffer severe, life-altering health consequences and even die. We are urging the Court to ensure hospitals can continue to provide the emergency care federal law requires.”

The case comes to the Supreme Court after the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Idaho in August 2022, seeking an injunction to allow patients to receive abortions in emergency circumstances. The case argues that EMTALA — a nearly 40-year-old federal statute that requires hospitals that receive Medicare funds to provide emergency stabilizing treatment to any patient that needs it — prevents Idaho from banning emergency abortions. A lower court granted the injunction, but anti-abortion politicians appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which lifted the injunction and took the case in January.

Medical professionals, from the American College of Emergency Physicians and American Hospital Association to the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have underscored that doctors must be able to provide their patients with the emergency abortion care they need.

Idaho is home to one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country, which went into effect following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022. As a result of this ban, medical providers have found themselves having to decide between providing stabilizing care to a pregnant patient and facing criminal prosecution from the state, or declining medical care and leaving a patient in crisis while facing federal sanctions for violating EMTALA.

As a result, Idaho has lost nearly 1 in 5 obstetricians and gynecologists who have chosen to leave the state and practice elsewhere, which has led to hospital obstetrics programs around the state shuttering their doors.

The brief in Idaho and Moyle, et al. v. United States is a part of the ACLU’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket.

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