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Why EMTALA and Idaho’s Law Both Protect Life

by | Apr 15, 2024

Both Idaho’s Defense of Life Act and EMTALA seek to protect every life—including the lives of unborn children.

By Lincoln Wilson, Alliance Defending Freedom

Since its government and constitution were established in 1890, the state of Idaho has protected life in its laws. Even during the 50 years in which Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, Idaho passed laws to protect life to the extent it was possible.

The state also passed “trigger” laws that would re-enact its prior protections for life in the event that Roe were overturned. So when the U.S. Supreme Court did so in 2022, Idaho’s Defense of Life Act was set to go into effect.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration concocted a plan to misuse EMTALA, a decades-old statute that says nothing about abortion, to force emergency room doctors to perform abortions regardless of Idaho law.

Ensuring patients receive care

During the tenure of President Ronald Reagan, some hospitals were refusing to treat patients who were unable to pay. The hospitals were either refusing to provide emergency treatment to these patients or transferring them to a different hospital without stabilizing their conditions.

To address this problem, Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), and President Reagan signed the bill into law.

EMTALA requires hospitals that accept Medicare to provide anyone who asks for treatment with “an appropriate medical screening examination within the capability of the hospital’s emergency department” to determine if the person has an “emergency medical condition.”

Regarding pregnant women, EMTALA defines an emergency condition as one that places the health of the woman “or her unborn child” in “serious jeopardy.” If a hospital determines that a pregnant woman or her child has an emergency medical condition, it must either treat them to the best of its ability or transfer them to another facility that can provide care.

Protecting every life

Similar to EMTALA, Idaho’s Defense of Life Act aims to protect the lives of both pregnant women and their unborn children.

Passed in 2020, the Defense of Life Act protects unborn children except when necessary to save the life of the mother. The law makes it clear that treatment for an ectopic pregnancy does not constitute an abortion and that doctors can rely on good-faith medical judgment to save a mother’s life.

Even though EMTALA and the Defense of Life Act are both designed to protect life, the Biden administration is attempting to create a conflict where none exists.

The Biden administration is manipulating EMTALA

Just weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the Biden administration sent hospitals receiving Medicare funds a “reminder” that if “a pregnant patient presenting at an emergency department is experiencing an emergency medical condition as defined by EMTALA, and … abortion is the stabilizing treatment necessary to resolve that condition, the physician must provide that treatment.”

In reality, this was not a reminder at all. It was an attempt by the Biden administration to misconstrue EMTALA to mandate that emergency room doctors perform abortions, which was never the purpose of the law.

The Biden administration then sued the state of Idaho based on its unlawful manipulation of EMTALA. It said that Idaho shouldn’t be allowed to enforce its Defense of Life Act because it conflicts with the federal statute.

But this is false.

Both EMTALA and the Defense of Life Act seek to protect the lives of everyone—including women and their unborn children. Under Idaho’s law, doctors will continue to provide care to women experiencing ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, and life-threatening conditions, which is exactly what EMTALA requires.

Contrary to the Biden administration’s assertions, EMTALA does not require emergency room doctors to perform abortions. In fact, it expressly requires them—in four separate places—to care for both pregnant women and their “unborn child[ren].” EMTALA and the Defense of Life Act can be enforced simultaneously without any conflict.

The Office of the Idaho Attorney General, assisted by attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom and Cooper & Kirk, has asked the Supreme Court to end the administration’s lawlessness and allow the state to continue to enforce its Defense of Life Act. The federal government has no authority to override the will of Idaho voters enacted through their elected representatives, and this blatant overreach by the Biden administration must be stopped.

Categories: State Legislation