Emergency Room Photo: AARP

Supreme Court bars Biden from converting emergency rooms into abortion centers in Idaho

The nation’s highest court ruled that Biden cannot take advantage of a federal law to try to weaken Idaho’s abortion ban by allowing emergency room doctors to perform abortions.

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Tim Daniel

(ZENIT News / Washington, 01.08.2024).- In a victory for pro-life advocates, on January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that Joe Biden cannot force Idaho to convert its emergency rooms into abortion centers, at least while the case continues. The country’s highest court determined that Biden cannot exploit a federal law to try to weaken Idaho’s abortion ban by allowing emergency room doctors to perform abortions.

This decision follows a federal appeals court ruling this week that prevents Biden from doing the same in Texas. Last year, on August 2, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho, hoping to undermine its new law prohibiting most abortions by claiming that the state law conflicts with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) and medical treatment for pregnant women in emergency rooms.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that Idaho’s law conflicts with federal law because it prohibits abortions in almost all circumstances. However, the state argued that any emergency abortion is allowed under its abortion ban.

Now, the Supreme Court will hear the case in April and issue a full ruling to decide the case. The issue revolves around the Biden administration’s illegitimate attempt to use a law that ensures indigent patients receive care in emergency rooms to force doctors to perform abortions that are illegal under Idaho law.

Idaho’s pro-life law imposes penalties on doctors who perform prohibited abortions, unless doing so is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or other exceptions apply. The federal government claims, and the lower court ruled, that EMTALA requires abortions in violation of this law if an emergency room doctor thinks it is appropriate.

«Hospitals, especially emergency rooms, are centers for preserving life. The government has no business transforming them into abortion clinics,» said Erin Hawley, ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of the Center for Life and Regulatory Practice. «Emergency room physicians can, and do, treat ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening conditions. But elective abortion is not life-saving care; it ends the life of the unborn child, and the government has no authority to override Idaho’s law barring these procedures. We urge the Supreme Court to halt the lower court’s injunction and allow Idaho emergency rooms to fulfill their primary function—saving lives.»

After the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion to the states in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the federal government sued the state of Idaho, claiming that EMTALA, an ancillary provision of the Medicare statute, preempts Idaho’s pro-life law. But as explained in the emergency application, «EMTALA is silent on abortion and actually requires stabilizing treatment for the unborn children of pregnant women.»

«The United States’ position conflicts with the universal agreement of federal courts of appeal that EMTALA does not dictate a federal standard of care or displace state medical standards. The district court accepted the United States’ revisionist, post-Dobbs reading of EMTALA and enjoined Idaho’s Defense of Life Act in emergency rooms. The district court’s injunction effectively turns EMTALA’s protection for the uninsured into a federal super-statute on the issue of abortion, one that strips Idaho of its sovereign interest in protecting innocent, human life and turns emergency rooms into a federal enclave where state standards of care do not apply,» notes Hawley.

Idaho’s abortion ban permits a physician who does an abortion to raise the affirmative defense that the abortion was necessary to save the mother’s life or that the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest that was reported. In both cases, the physician must choose a procedure that is most likely to save the life of the baby and protect the mother. The law explicitly excludes contraception from the definition of abortion, and women upon whom abortions are performed may not be prosecuted.

The pro-life laws in Idaho and other states include clearly defined exceptions that allow abortions in the cases when a mother’s life is at risk. Because the pro-life movement cares about the lives of both mother and child and there are rare cases in which only the mother’s life can be saved, it supports such exceptions.

But these exceptions mean the Biden administration’s guidance is unnecessary. Undermining Idaho’s life-saving efforts and expanding abortions appear to be the administration’s real goal.


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