Supreme Court Seemingly Swayed to Permit Emergency Abortions in Idaho

by Xara Aziz
United States Supreme Court

The Supreme Court appears ready to temporarily permit emergency abortions in Idaho when a woman’s health is at risk, based on a leaked opinion that briefly surfaced on the court’s website Wednesday.

The unsigned opinion, which dismissed the case on procedural grounds, indicates that the justices will not address the substantive issues of the dispute at this time. Instead, it would reinstate a lower federal court ruling that had paused Idaho’s near-total abortion ban and allowed hospitals to perform emergency abortions to protect the mother’s health.

The central question in the case is whether a federal law requiring emergency medical care overrides Idaho’s stringent abortion ban. The state’s law, among the strictest in the country, permits abortions only when the woman’s life is in danger, with few exceptions.

The authenticity and finality of the leaked document remain uncertain. Patricia McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, confirmed that a decision in the joined cases, Moyle v. United States and Idaho v. United States, will be released in due course. “The court’s publications unit inadvertently and briefly uploaded a document to the court’s website,” McCabe stated.

According to the leaked 22-page opinion, labeled “per curiam” (meaning “by the court”), the justices were divided 6-3. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote a partial concurrence and partial dissent, arguing that the federal law should override Idaho’s abortion ban and that the Supreme Court should resolve the issue immediately.

The court’s liberal justices, along with Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., either wrote or joined in concurring opinions. In dissent were Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas, and Neil M. Gorsuch.

The leaked document was dated Wednesday, but the court officially announced only two rulings that morning, neither of which involved abortion.

If the leaked opinion reflects the court’s final decision, it would mark the second time this term that the justices have deferred ruling on the merits of abortion cases. The opinion suggested that the court would maintain access to emergency abortions while the case continues through the legal system.

Justice Elena Kagan, in her concurrence, noted that the decision would prevent Idaho from enforcing its abortion ban in situations where terminating a pregnancy is necessary to prevent serious harm to a woman’s health. She stressed that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act “unambiguously requires” hospitals receiving federal funding to provide whatever medical treatment is necessary to stabilize patients.

Justice Jackson echoed this sentiment, criticizing the temporary enforcement of Idaho’s ban as causing a “monthslong catastrophe.” She described how doctors were forced to watch their patients suffer or arrange for emergency airlifts out of the state.

As the legal battle continues, the decision underscores the ongoing and contentious debate over abortion rights in the United States, with significant implications for the balance between federal mandates and state laws.

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