On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Idaho, affirming that hospitals in the state receiving federal funding must permit emergency abortions despite state-law restrictions, remanding the case to lower courts for a final decision.

In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled to dismiss the case as improvidently granted. This means that doctors in Idaho can perform emergency abortions despite laws that nearly ban all abortions, while the case continues to be litigated.

The Supreme Court’s dismissal, however, does not resolve the legal questions about abortion. Instead, it sends the case back to the appeals court rather than rushing it through to the highest level.

Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented, however, justices issued separate concurring and dissenting opinions, indicating a split in their views on the merits of Idaho’s argument.

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The case focused on the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which mandates that federally funded hospitals must provide stabilizing care to emergency room patients regardless of their ability to pay.

EMTALA was enacted during the Biden administration following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. It mandates that state laws with sticker definitions of emergency conditions are preempted by federal law.

This care can encompass abortion, which is considered standard for stabilizing many pregnancy-related conditions. Hospitals have routinely offered this procedure when medically necessary.

The Department of Justice has emphasized that abortion can constitute stabilizing treatment if deemed necessary. However, EMTALA does not explicitly mention abortion or specify which procedures must be provided.

Under Idaho law, abortions are allowed only when “necessary to prevent death of the pregnant woman.” However, the law does not permit abortions if the patient’s health or reproductive future is threatened by a serious health consequence, such as the potential loss of a uterus.

Doctors who perform abortions under these circumstances can face penalties of up to five years in prison.

In response to the enactment of EMTALA, Idaho argued that state law takes precedence over the federal mandate, asserting that states can prevent an abortion if the patient’s life is not in jeopardy.

A district court initially ruled against Idaho, halting enforcement of the disputed portion of Idaho’s law. Idaho appealed, and a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit temporarily lifted the injunction but later reinstated it, thereby preventing the state from enforcing the law.

In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and permitted the law to go into effect before pending arguments scheduled for April.

In Thursday’s decision, the majority deemed it premature for the court to intervene, ruling that dismissing the case was justified due to the Justice Department narrowing the scope of EMTALA while Idaho had amended its laws to broaden access to emergency abortion.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented, criticizing the court’s decision for not to resolve the case.

“Today’s decision is not a victory for pregnant patients in Idaho. It is a delay. While this court dawdles and the country waits, pregnant people experiencing medical conditions remain in a precarious position, as their doctors are kept in the dark about what the law requires. This Court had a chance to bring clarity and certainty to this tragic situation, and we have squandered it,” she wrote.

While the ruling is a temporary victory for the Biden administration, both abortion opponents and abortion rights advocates did not consider it a win due to the Court’s failure to decide on the matter.

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