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Supreme Court asked to prevent pro-life doctors from being forced to perform abortions

The U.S Supreme Court is photographed on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Washington. The Associated Press/Photo by Mariam Zuhaib

Supreme Court asked to prevent pro-life doctors from being forced to perform abortions

The Becket law firm on Tuesday filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. The brief supports the state of Idaho’s request for the Supreme Court to allow a pro-life law to take effect. The high court in January agreed to decide whether Idaho’s law protecting unborn babies conflicts with a federal emergency care law. Justices are set to hear arguments in the case in April.

How did the case start? After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Department of Justice in August of 2022 filed a lawsuit against Idaho’s Defense of Life Act. The lawsuit claimed that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, overrides the state law. A U.S. District judge in Idaho blocked the state from enforcing its law, and a court of appeals in San Francisco upheld the injunction last year. In November, the state and Idaho House Speaker Mike Moyle asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, and the justices lifted the injunction.

What is EMTALA? Congress passed the EMTALA in 1986 to require hospitals to provide patients with emergency and stabilizing medical care regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status. The law applies to hospitals that serve individuals who receive Medicaid or Medicare. In July 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expanded the guidance in the law to include abortions. The guidance would require hospital emergency rooms to perform abortions if a pregnant woman had a condition defined as an emergency by EMTALA, regardless of state law or a doctor’s religious beliefs.

What does Idaho’s law say? The Defense of Life Act protects unborn babies except when the life of the mother is in danger or in cases of rape or incest. Physicians who perform abortions outside of those exceptions could face criminal penalties.

Have there been similar cases? In July 2022, the state of Texas filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the new EMTALA guidance. A federal district court judge in Texas ruled in favor of the state and barred the Biden administration from enforcing the guidance in state emergency rooms. A federal appeals court in New Orleans in January upheld the ruling, saying that the HHS guidance “exceeds statutory language” and “goes beyond EMTALA by mandating abortion.”

Dig deeper: Read Lillian Hamman’s report on Pennsylvania lawmakers pushing to reduce pro-life protections for unborn babies.

Lauren Canterberry

Lauren Canterberry is a reporter for WORLD. She graduated from the World Journalism Institute and the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism, both in 2017. She worked as a local reporter in Texas and now lives in Georgia with her husband.

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