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Supreme Court will hear challenge to Idaho’s Defense of Life Act by pro-abortion Biden administration using EMTALA

by | Apr 22, 2024

“Reading EMTALA as empowering HHS to displace state abortion laws defies the usual expectations of how Congress legislates and distorts the Constitution’s separation of powers.” —  Idaho Legislators’ brief

By Dave Andrusko

This Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear an attempt by the pro-abortion Biden administration to defend its use of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act [EMTALA] as a lever to force emergency-room doctors to perform abortions in clear violation of Idaho’s Defense of Life Act.

On January 5, after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador said, “We are very pleased and encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision.” The federal government “has been wrong from day one,” Labrador added. “Federal law does not preempt Idaho’s Defense of Life Act. In fact, EMTALA and Idaho’s law share the same goal: to save the lives of all women and their unborn children. The Supreme Court’s decision is a big step in stopping the administration’s lawless overreach. The people of Idaho have spoken with clarity on the issue of life.”

National Right to Life filed an amicus brief, strongly defended the proper use of EMTALA:

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) sets a minimum requirement for emergency medical treatment, instead of establishing a uniform, national standard of care. EMTALA, which is part of the Medicare regime, does not confer an inherent right to emergency medical care but instead imposes conditions for hospitals to provide such care. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lacks the authority to interpret EMTALA as prescribing abortion as a national standard of care. The legislative history of EMTALA underscores its limited scope and deference to state regulation, and Congress has historically rejected efforts to expand EMTALA’s reach beyond its original anti-dumping purpose.

 Idaho’s Defense of Life Act law went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe on June 24, 2022. It protects unborn children from abortion except when necessary to save the life of the mother. In August the Biden administration sued the state. It argued the law “is unconstitutional and preempted by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA,” according to Melissa Quinn, reporting for CBS News.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill imposed a preliminary injunction in August 2022. The law bounced around the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, first heard by a three-member panel, then the full court.

“The Supreme Court in early January said it would decide whether EMTALA preempts state laws that prohibit most abortions, but allowed Idaho to continue enforcing its ban in certain emergency medical situations until it issues a decision, expected by the end of June,” Quinn reported.

EMTALA does not include a requirement to perform abortions that conflict with Idaho law, lawyers for Idaho’s Republican legislative leader argued. They asserted

This is no ordinary case of statutory misconstruction. The Government’s wayward reading of EMTALA is an intolerable federal power grab. The Government’s preemption theory contravenes the major questions doctrine. Congress has not given federal officials the power to preempt state abortion laws. EMTALA is not HHS’s Trojan horse for nationwide abortion rules. EMTALA nowhere mentions abortion. Reading EMTALA as empowering HHS to displace state abortion laws defies the usual expectations of how Congress legislates and distorts the Constitution’s separation of powers.

In a separate filing from Idaho’s attorney general, state lawyers claimed the Biden administration is attempting not only to construct an abortion mandate out of EMTALA, but if that were to be allowed that could have ramifications beyond the abortion context

“It would allow the federal government to pay hospitals to violate state law, exempting emergency-room doctors from the state-law standards of practice that govern the treatments they are authorized to provide. Nothing about that nullification of state law is narrow, and it is not, and will not be, limited to abortion.”

Categories: Judicial