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Physicians Express Relief at Supreme Court Dismissal Preventing Idaho from Enforcing its Abortion Ban in Severe Medical Emergencies, But Continue to Fear for Pregnant People in Other States Where Abortion is Criminalized

Physicians submitted amicus brief to Court detailing how inability to rely on EMTALA forces physicians to violate their medical ethics and conscientious beliefs

June 27, 2024—(PRESS RELEASE) Four OB-GYNs expressed relief at today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to send back to a lower court a case that threatened to allow Idaho to exclude pregnant people from emergency abortion care under the  Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).  The decision reinstates a lower order blocking Idaho’s abortion ban in the narrow circumstance where EMTALA applies

Dr. Caitlin Bernard, Dr. Lauren Miller, Dr. Leilah Zahedi-Spung, and Dr. Nikki Zite submitted an amicus brief to the Court in April 2024 that contained painful, first-hand accounts of how having to delay or withhold abortion care from patients suffering severe health emergencies has not only jeopardized the patients’ health and lives, but also forced the physicians to violate their medical ethics and deeply held conscientious and religious beliefs, contrary to EMTALA’s intentWhile the physicians expressed relief that today’s order will prevent Idaho from excluding pregnant people from certain emergency abortion care, this ruling does not alleviate the injuries to pregnant people in Idaho who fall outside EMTALA’s protections. Nor does it settle the question of whether EMTALA preempts state laws that prohibit emergency abortion care, noting that patients in other states with abortion bans will remain vulnerable to grievous harm.

 “While today’s order helps ensure that pregnant people in Idaho can temporarily obtain life-saving healthcare, I will continue to be torn between my ethical duties to my patients and considerations about my own life and family,” said Dr. Caitlin Bernard.  “The order does not alter the fact that OBGYNs in Indiana are and will continue to be chilled from providing needed emergency abortion care, which will actively harm our patients.”

“I am heartened by today’s order but without greater relief from Idaho’s abortion ban or the certainty that we can rely on EMTALA’s protections in other states, physicians everywhere will continue to think twice before providing essential care to patients in dire emergencies,” said Dr. Lauren Miller.  “It is nothing short of horrific that risk of criminal prosecution is a factor when physicians are determining what kind of care they can provide.”

“I am deeply committed to helping vulnerable people as they navigate what is often the most challenging moment of their lives,” said  Dr. Leilah Zahedi-Spung.  “This dismissal will help protect some pregnant people in  Idaho from serious harm, but my fellow physicians across the country remain stuck in an impossible situation. It is truly untenable.”

“Today’s order helps reduce the suffering inflicted by Idaho’s abortion ban, but it does nothing for our patients and healthcare teams in other states where abortion is criminalized,” said Dr. Nikki Zite.  “Pregnant patients in these states will continue to experience additional trauma when they are already undergoing a medical emergency and physicians will continue to be torn between their oath to care for patients and the fear of criminalization.   Abortion is healthcare and until there is less legislative and judicial interference in this care, patients will suffer.”

The physicians’ brief – which was submitted by the Lawyering Project – also describes how the inability to adequately treat pregnant patients in serious medical emergencies has forced physicians to violate their conscientious beliefs by driving them out of states that already have a shortage of maternal-fetal medicine specialists.  The Lawyering Project also represents an Idaho maternal-fetal medicine specialist in a federal challenge to establish a constitutional right to medically indicated abortion care.