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U.S. Supreme Court dismisses EMTALA case – sending the issue back to lower courts 

June 27, 2024
Area(s) of Interest: Reproductive Freedom 


In a temporary reprieve for reproductive freedom, the U.S. Supreme Court today dismissed Idaho’s appeal of a lower-court order that paused the state’s near-total abortion ban. The action at least temporarily prevents interference with enforcement of the federal law that allows women to receive abortion care in emergency situations in which their health is at risk while the issue is returned to the lower courts.  

At issue in these consolidated cases –  Idaho v. United States and Moyle v. United States – was whether state abortion bans trump long-standing federal law that requires hospitals to provide stabilizing treatment to any patient who presents to their emergency rooms. The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) requires hospitals to provide necessary abortion care to pregnant people experiencing medical emergencies irrespective of any conflicting state law. Every hospital in the United States that operates an emergency department and participates in Medicare is subject to EMTALA. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling today is at least a temporary victory for patient rights. For 40 years, EMTALA has played an essential role in helping to stabilize pregnant people facing medical emergencies,” said gynecologist and California Medical Association (CMA) President Tanya W. Spirtos, M.D. “With as many as 15% of pregnancies experiencing potentially life-threatening conditions, it is critically important that states with abortion bans are not allowed to endanger the lives of pregnant people by denying them the emergency care they need.” 

Being denied care has and will continue to result in increased maternal health complications and negative, long-term health effects for pregnant people, including loss of future fertility. Every pregnancy is different, and circumstances can change quickly. Health care providers need to be able to provide evidence-based care, which can include abortion, to protect the pregnant patient’s life and health. 

“As physicians, we at CMA stand strongly in support of the fundamental right to access reproductive health care services. While we are relieved that the Court ruling today prevents states from denying emergency medical care to pregnant patients, we know this fight is not over,” said Dr. Spirtos. “CMA will continue to steadfastly champion policies that ensure that patients can get the care they need, when and where they need it, and that personal medical decisions can be made by individuals, in consultation with their health care providers, not by ideologically driven lawmakers or judges.” 

This action is the second in as many weeks taken by the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of abortion access. Earlier this month, the Court ruled that the plaintiffs in Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)lack standing to sue over the FDA’s approval of the abortion medication, mifepristone. While the Court did not rule on the merits of that case, the opinion for now preserves access to mifepristone, which was used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year. 

 

 

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