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Reactions to the Supreme Court opinion on emergency abortions in Idaho

In case of emergency, go to the strip mall or the hospital?
In case of emergency, go to the strip mall or the hospital?

A leaked version of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion on Idaho’s strict abortion ban was briefly released online, apparently accidentally, and reported by Bloomberg News on Wednesday morning. The unofficial opinion appears to side with the federal government which argues Idaho law conflicts with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA.

The federal mandate requires physicians to stabilize patients in an emergency, which can include abortions. Under the Idaho code, doctors can provide abortions only under narrow circumstances, including to save the life of the mother but not to preserve her health.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited Boise to talk about Idaho’s Reproductive rights landscape. Speaking with Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, physicians, and a mother who traveled out of state to get an abortion, Becerra talked about the reality of practicing medicine in Idaho and reiterated the Federal government’s stance.

“The bottom line is, none of us wants to be denied access to an emergency room when we need it,” the Secretary said, adding he did not want to speculate on the EMTALA ruling until the High Court’s opinion was confirmed.

“If indeed the Supreme Court upholds the very practiced principle that you are entitled to get the emergency care that you need based on what your medical professional, that doctor says you need, that would be a good thing,” Becerra said.

At the same event, Family Doctor Loren Olsen said the news did not change the fact that women who need an abortion cannot always access one.

“This teeny tiny little carve out allows us, as physicians in very specific scenarios, to provide the care and hopefully not life flight people out of the state so they have to go somewhere else to get the care that we could easily provide here. But it does not fix our problem here,” he said.

In a call, Susie Keller, the head of the Idaho Medical Association, which represents about 70% of all physicians in the state, said they were hoping for an outcome along these lines, but the fight is not over.

“That doesn't go far enough in providing that very clear reading of the law and stability that physicians need in order to feel safe in taking care of patients,” she said.

Citing a recent study showing the state lost 22% of its OBGYNs since Roe v Wade was repealed, Keller said the next step would be to carve out a clear exception to the health of the mother in the law.

“This back and forth with the courts and decisions, if anything, show very clearly that we need to have something very clear in our law that says what is permissible and what is not permissible.”

In a statement, the anti-abortion advocacy group Idaho Family Policy Center said they were disappointed by the decision but not surprised.

“While this decision will certainly have profound implications for abortion policy nationally, the leaked opinion does not affect the power of states to ban elective abortions,” said Blaine Conzatti, the group’s president.

In an email, the state Attorney General’s office said it would not comment on the opinion until it was officially released by the court.

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio News

Julie Luchetta
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