Implications of Idaho Abortion Ban for Emergency Medical Care

On April 24, the Supreme Court evaluated whether Idaho politicians have the authority to prevent doctors from providing emergency medical care to patients experiencing pregnancy complications. If granted, this would allow other states to prohibit emergency reproductive care and worsen medical infrastructure for individuals across the board. Politicians have once again established a case that could have devastating consequences on doctors’ ability to provide and pregnant women’s ability to receive essential reproductive health care.

I am a family physician who has practiced medicine in rural Idaho for over 20 years, guiding hundreds of patients through their pregnancies. It is no exaggeration to state that Idaho’s healthcare system is in crisis, largely due to our near-total abortion ban. Instead of addressing the situation, Idaho politicians seek to exacerbate it by making it even more difficult for doctors like me to provide care to patients in need. I express my hope that the Court will recognize that this case concerns not only abortion but also the future of emergency room care and medicine as a whole.  

Rural healthcare has always faced challenges, but it has worsened significantly since Roe v. Wade was overturned nearly two years ago. Idaho has lost since the state’s abortion ban was enacted, colleagues, and friends who entered medicine to assist people are now being forced to give up obstetrics in our state. They recognized that giving adequate care was impossible while being subjected to the whims of politicians more concerned with advancing their extremist agenda than protecting the health of their constituents.

Idaho’s abortion ban criminalizes performing or assisting with an abortion in almost all circumstances. The ban does not include an exception for cases where a person’s health is at risk, only for cases where a doctor determines that an abortion is necessary to prevent the pregnant person’s death. Any doctor would acknowledge that this “exception” raises more questions than it answers.

Patients require emergency abortions for various reasons, including addressing life-threatening miscarriages. However, the ban provides no clear legal definition of what constitutes such a situation or when intervention is permitted. Doctors, operating under the threat of prosecution, have no choice but to exercise excessive caution.

“Can I replace her blood loss quickly enough? How many organ systems must fail? Can a patient be hours away from death before I intervene, or does it have to be minutes?” These are the heartless questions doctors are now forced to contemplate, while our patients rely on us to prioritize their well-being.

As a result, pregnant patients may make repeated emergency room visits because they are repeatedly told that nothing can be done until their complications become more severe. Imagine if a loved one had a 104-degree fever but was told nothing could be done until it reached 106 degrees and their organs were failing. Forcing patients to wait until they are on the verge of death before providing care is not sound medical policy; it is blatant cruelty. This situation will only worsen if we allow extremism, rather than science, to flourish in our statehouses and trample on our safe healthcare system.

Furthermore, it violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a long-standing federal law requiring hospitals to treat emergencies before they become life-threatening. This is exactly why the U.S. Department of Justice sued Idaho shortly after the state’s abortion ban took effect. The lawsuit merely argues that Idaho must allow doctors to perform abortions in medical emergencies when it is the standard stabilizing care, but even that was too much for state leaders.

Idaho politicians have instead taken the DOJ to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s decision will have far-reaching consequences throughout the country. If the Court rules that federal law no longer protects pregnant women during emergencies, it will give anti-abortion politicians across the country the green light to deny essential abortion care, encouraging providers to leave states where prosecutors can second-guess decisions made with their patients, and perpetuating this cycle of inhumanity toward patients. 

As evidenced in Idaho, policies based on anti-abortion extremism degrade healthcare for everyone. This attack on abortion has extended beyond abortion itself to encompass more of our rights and healthcare, including , , , and now emergency medical care.  

This must end. 

For nearly 40 years, federal law has guaranteed patients access to necessary emergency care, including in cases of pregnancy complications. The Supreme Court must uphold this law and ensure that pregnant women continue to receive the care they require when they need it most. The health of my patients in West Central Idaho—and millions of other Americans across the country—deserves nothing less.