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U.S. Supreme Court Case Oral Arguments Will Show How Idaho’s Abortion Ban “Dangerously Overrides” Federal Law: PHR

PHR urges the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the District Court’s ruling ahead of today’s oral arguments in Idaho v. United States and block enforcement of Idaho’s abortion ban in emergency rooms

As the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments tomorrow in Idaho v. United States – the latest abortion case brought before SCOTUS after its overturning of Roe v. Wade – Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) argues that Idaho’s ban directly conflicts with an essential federal law, the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA). 

“In contradicting federal law, Idaho’s abortion ban is fueling a health and human rights crisis for both pregnant patients and physicians,” said Payal K. Shah, JD, who leads PHR’s work on reproductive justice. 

In an amicus curiae brief filed in the Supreme Court in March, PHR highlighted the severe consequences of implementing the Idaho abortion ban. While the Idaho abortion ban prohibits pregnancy termination except to prevent the death of a pregnant patient, ectopic pregnancy, or in first trimester cases of rape or incest, federal requirements under EMTALA mandate that health facilities offer stabilizing treatment – including pregnancy termination when clinically indicated to preserve the health of a pregnant patient. 

PHR’s brief details how the conflicting statutes have significantly delayed necessary medical care for pregnant patients and how the harsh civil, criminal, and professional penalties for violating the Idaho ban place physicians in impossible positions that put the health of pregnant patients at risk.

“This case is yet another consequence of the danger, fear, and confusion caused by the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs decision to overturn the right to abortion enshrined by Roe v. Wade,” said amicus brief coauthor Shah.

A PHR fact-finding brief cited throughout the amicus features testimony from nine clinicians treating patients in or from Idaho on their experiences with pregnant patients since the Supreme Court this year allowed the ban to go into effect. These clinicians detail chronically delayed medical care for pregnant patients and how the ban has forced patients to undergo dangerous journeys for care – directly undermining the goal of EMTALA. Clinicians also shed light on how the conflicting laws, coupled with punitive, severe penalties,the risk of malpractice suits, and compliance with medical ethics, place physicians in an untenable bind. 

“Thirteen of Idaho’s 44 counties are already maternity care deserts. Emergency rooms then become frontline care. The Idaho ban’s severe limitation on treatment options will only result in increasing Idaho’s already unacceptable maternity mortality and morbidity rates,” said Gerson H. Smoger, JD, PhD, amicus brief counsel of record and PHR board chair.

Since the reversal of Roe, PHR has worked alongside local and national partners to research and highlight the consequences of abortion criminalization on health care in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and Idaho. PHR continues to mobilize its medical and legal networks to investigate, document, and spotlight the impacts of state-level abortion bans.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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