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How could the Supreme Court ban emergency care?

Emergency pregnancy care under EMTALA — the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act — is at risk.

This federal law was passed nearly 40 years ago to ensure everyone can access emergency medical care. The law requires hospitals to screen all patients and treat anyone experiencing an emergency medical condition with stabilizing care. The courts, Congress, physicians, and hospitals have recognized the law for decades.   

EMTALA supersedes state law, as its language makes clear. But states with total abortion bans, like Idaho, want to change that. They argue that their abortion bans mean they can ignore EMTALA, and “ban” pregnant people’s access to care in emergency care situations. 

Now, there is a pivotal court case at the U.S. Supreme Court over Idaho’s effort to prevent hospital providers from providing emergency abortion care to patients who are facing serious pregnancy complications that threaten their health and lives.

The consequences of an emergency care ban: pregnant people could suffer, even die

The U.S. Supreme Court already issued an order that has allowed Idaho to ignore federal law while the Court is considering the case.  If the court’s final decision does not uphold existing federal law,  emergency room doctors across the country could be forced under state abortion bans to refuse treatment to a pregnant person suffering a medical emergency — like their water breaking dangerously early, uncontrollable hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia (which could cause seizures or brain injury), sepsis, and more. 

We don’t have to imagine who would be most harmed: 

  • Barriers to health care do the most harm to Black, Latino, AAPI and Indigenous communities, people with low incomes, people living in rural communities, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people.
  • Right now, America is already in a maternal mortality crisis. The maternal mortality rate in America is the highest of any wealthy country in the world — and Black and Indigenous communities bear the brunt of this crisis. Black and Indigenous women are more likely to experience serious pregnancy complications and 2-3 times more likely than white women to die a pregnancy-related death in the United States. 

Emergency health care is at risk: what’s next for people seeking care

Everyone must be able to get the emergency care they need – including pregnant people who need an abortion. Abortion opponents  are so desperate to ban and restrict abortion that they are willing to endanger the lives of all pregnant people, even those experiencing medical emergencies.

The consequences will be catastrophic if the Supreme Court allows states to ignore the 40-year-old federal law that protects care for patients in emergency situations — including abortion. Unless the Supreme Court is willing to let pregnant people die or suffer serious complications, it must ensure this critical emergency care  remains in place.

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