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HomeU.SSupreme Court Allows, for Now, Emergency Abortions in Idaho

Supreme Court Allows, for Now, Emergency Abortions in Idaho

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The Supreme Court said on Thursday that it would dismiss a case about emergency abortions in Idaho, temporarily clearing the way for women in the state to receive an abortion when their health is at risk.

The brief, unsigned opinion declared that the case had been “improvidently granted.” The decision reinstates a lower-court ruling that had halted Idaho’s near-total ban on abortion and permitted emergency abortions at hospitals if needed to protect the health of the mother while the case makes its way through the courts.

The decision, which did not rule on the substance of the case, appeared to closely mirror a version that appeared briefly on the court’s website a day earlier and was reported by Bloomberg. A court spokeswoman acknowledged on Wednesday that the publications unit had “inadvertently and briefly uploaded a document” and said a ruling in the case would appear in due time.

The joined cases, Moyle v. United States and Idaho v. United States, focus on whether a federal law aimed at ensuring emergency care for any patient supersedes Idaho’s abortion ban, one of the nation’s strictest. The state outlaws the procedure, with few exceptions unless a woman’s life is in danger.

The decision was essentially 6 to 3, with three conservative justices siding with the liberal wing in saying they would drop the case.

It was the first time that the court was confronted with the question of statewide restrictions on abortion, many of which swiftly took effect after the court eliminated a constitutional right to the procedure two years ago.

The ruling handed a victory, albeit a temporary one, to the Biden administration, which had turned to the federal law as one of the few, if narrow, ways to challenge state abortion bans and preserve access after the court overturned Roe v. Wade.

It also amounted to a second win, however muted, for abortion rights. This month, the court rejected a challenge to the longstanding approval of a commonly used abortion pill, saying that an umbrella group of anti-abortion medical organizations and doctors bringing the case lacked standing to sue. Even as the decision preserved availability of the pill, the court did not rule on the merits of the case.

Still, just as with the abortion pill battle, the case involving emergency abortions — and the underlying question of the state versus federal law — will continue in the lower courts.

Idaho had asked the Supreme Court to intervene after an 11-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit temporarily blocked the law. In agreeing to hear the case, the justices had temporarily reinstated the ban.

Under Idaho law, abortion is illegal except in cases of incest, rape, some instances of nonviable pregnancies or when it is “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.” Doctors who perform abortions could face criminal penalties, prison time and loss of their licenses to practice medicine.

The Biden administration had asserted that the ban conflicted with federal law and that the federal law should override it. Idaho contended that the Biden administration had improperly interpreted the federal law in an effort to bypass state bans, effectively turning hospitals into legal abortion sites.

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