The US Supreme Court finds itself in a high stakes legal battle over emergency abortions, as the pivotal role of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (Emtala) comes before the court, revealing the weakening of federal protection and strengthening of state-level abortion restrictions in the post-Roe landscape. Here’s the full story.
A Desperate Journey
Mylissa Farmer’s deeply harrowing experience in 2022 sheds a harsh light on the mounting challenges faced by women seeking emergency abortions in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v Wade. Having visited two hospitals in Missouri and Kansas, Farmer faced rejection despite the dire circumstances of her pregnancy.
Physicians reached a consensus that, given the circumstance of 41-year-old Farmer, whose water had broken merely 18 weeks into her pregnancy, the likelihood of a healthy baby’s delivery was nonexistent. Despite the potential threats to Farmer’s health and life posed by continuing the pregnancy, the medical professionals refused to take any action. forcing her to travel to Illinois for the medical assistance she needed.
In a groundbreaking move, Farmer filed a legal complaint against the hospitals, invoking the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (Emtala).
This federal law, established in 1986, mandates hospitals that receive federal Medicare dollars must stabilize patients in medical emergencies, regardless of their ability to pay. The US government, in an unprecedented move, has sided with Farmer, due to the violation of Emtala by the hospitals.
Emtala Under Scrutiny
The US Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear oral arguments in a case involving Emtala has thrown the law into the spotlight. This decision, arising from a case in Idaho, has far-reaching implications for the government’s authority to safeguard women seeking emergency abortions.
The clash between the Biden administration, asserting that Emtala protects access to emergency abortions, and abortion opponents, who argue against abortions in almost all situations, intensifies the ongoing battle over post-Roe v Wade abortion access.
Emergency abortions, exemplified by Farmer’s case, have become a focal point in the abortion access debate. Numerous women have come forward across the United States, recounting instances of being denied medically necessary abortions, which potentially endanger their lives.
With the Emtala case scheduled for oral arguments in April, it is poised to amplify the discussion of the federal government’s role in shielding physicians and patients confronting state abortion bans.
Physicians and Emtala Advocacy
Dr. Alexandria Wells, an OB-GYN in Washington state, highlighted the significance of Emtala for healthcare providers facing restrictive state abortion laws. Wells stated, “There are a lot of doctors who, despite the state’s abortion restrictions, still want to go back and they still want to serve the communities that need the care.
One of the arguments that they had was Emtala, and the ability to say to your hospital administration that ‘There is this federal standing that we have to provide this level of care’. And so they were able to provide the care that they knew was necessary to patients. Without Emtala, I think a lot of providers are afraid that there’ll be less fear from institutions about saying ‘no’ when abortions are needed in emergencies.”
Emtala serves as a federal standing that empowers physicians to provide necessary care, even in the face of stringent abortion restrictions. Without Emtala, there is growing concern among healthcare providers that institutions may be more inclined to deny emergency abortions, compromising patient care.
Idaho’s Abortion Ban
In a somewhat unsurprising move considering the right wing shift it has taken since the appointments of Justices by former President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court has allowed Idaho to enforce a law nearly banning all abortions, adding another layer to the Emtala case.
This controversial law places criminal consequences on Idaho doctors performing abortions, with an “affirmative defense” option only if the procedure is deemed necessary to save a patient’s life.
The intertwining of state abortion bans and Emtala protection intensifies the debate surrounding the differential treatment of pregnant individuals.
The Horror of Denied Abortions
Jaci Statton’s case in Oklahoma mirrors the anguish faced by women seeking emergency abortions. Diagnosed with a partial molar pregnancy, Statton’s life was at risk, and an abortion could stabilize her condition.
However, an Oklahoma hospital failed to provide the necessary procedure, taking the horrifying decision to insist on waiting until Statton’s situation deteriorated further.
Statton’s complaint against the hospital for contravening Emtala reveals, “In the meantime, the best that they could offer was to let Jaci sit in the parking lot so that she would be close to the hospital when her condition further deteriorated.”
Emtala, Roe’s Fallout, and the Ongoing Struggle
The erosion of Roe v Wade, as envisioned by Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the other right wing Supreme Court Justices, has not led to the expected neutrality on abortion. Instead, federal courts find themselves entangled in a wave of abortion-related lawsuits.
The recent ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, disputing the Biden administration’s assertion that Emtala covers emergency abortions, exemplifies the difficult legal position the overturning of Roe v Wade has left the country in. In a concurring opinion, Kavanaugh wrote, “Roe’s demise returns the court to a position of neutrality” on abortion and permits states to make their own decisions about how to handle the procedure.
This outcome, however, spectacularly failed to come to pass, leaving the landscape surrounding abortion rights in a deeply contentious state as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on both Emtala and abortion pill availability, just months ahead of the 2024 presidential election where abortion is set to be a major issue.
The outcome of the effects on women’s reproductive rights, and their ability to make medical decisions about their own bodies, remains to be seen.
The post The Battle for Emergency Abortions in the US Supreme Court Heats Up first appeared on Edge Media.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Sheila Fitzgerald.
Grant Gallacher is a seasoned writer with expertise in politics and impactful daily news. His work, deeply rooted in addressing issues that resonate with a wide audience, showcases an unwavering commitment to bringing forth the stories that matter. He is also known for satirical writing and stand up comedy.