Supreme Court allows Idaho abortion ban to be enacted, first such ruling since Dobbs

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday allowed Idaho’s abortion ban to go into effect, for now, and agreed to hear an appeal in the case, scheduling arguments for April.

The court’s order is the first time it has weighed in on a state’s criminal law banning abortions since the high court’s 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Idaho has been a leader of state efforts to criminalize abortion. Its “Defense of Life Act” would would make it a crime for “every person who performs or attempts to perform an abortion,” even when the woman’s health is greatly endangered. Under the Idaho law, the only exception to the abortion ban is when an abortion is “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.”

In August 2022 the Biden administration successfully sued to block the law. The government argued that the state statute illegally conflicts with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. That law requires hospitals to provide “necessary stabilizing treatment” when the health of the mother is in danger. And the court found that Idaho’s exception for only fatal cases “is narrower” than the federal law which “protects patients not only from imminent death but also from emergencies that seriously threaten their health.”

As the government explained in its brief, “pregnant patients arrive at emergency rooms in Idaho suffering from non-lethal conditions — including infections, pre-eclampsia, or premature pre-term rupture of membranes — for which pregnancy termination is the stabilizing care required to avoid grave harms like strokes, sepsis, and kidney failure.”

The lower court agreed that “it is impossible to comply with both [the federal and state] statutes,” and blocked Idaho’s law the day before it was to go into effect.

That decision was briefly overturned by a a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals comprised of all Trump-appointees. But the full Ninth Circuit quickly reversed that ruling, and kept Idaho’s law on ice until the Ninth Circuit decides the case.

On Friday, the Supreme Court intervened to allow Idaho’s criminal abortion ban to take effect and agreed to hear an appeal in April. The order could have widespread effects, empowering other states with less restrictive bans to pass more stringent laws.

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  • January 6, 2024
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