April 24, 2024

ACEP, Other Physicians Urge Supreme Court to Uphold EMTALA as Arguments Were Heard on Federal-State Conflict Over Emergency Abortions

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week about whether states can enact laws criminalizing the emergency medical treatment of a pregnant patient if that treatment requires termination of a pregnancy if a woman’s health, but not her life, is in serious danger.

The case comes from Idaho, where the state’s strict anti-abortion laws may conflict with federal EMTALA law – the question the Supreme Court seeks to resolve.

The Court’s decision could have far-reaching implications on the future of EMTALA, not just in cases of emergency abortion care, but other physician health care decisions and how state and federal laws are reconciled.

ACEP cosigned a statement with more than 20 other physician and health care organizations urging the Supreme Court not to weaken EMTALA protections.

“Without comprehensive EMTALA protections, the lives of pregnant patients will most certainly be at risk. EMTALA must continue to protect pregnant people just as it protects those who aren’t pregnant,” the statement reads, in part.

In July 2022, following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the Biden administration told hospitals accepting Medicare funds that physicians must offer pregnancy terminations in certain medical emergencies to prevent serious harm to a woman’s health. If a state law prohibits the procedure or includes an exception that is narrower than what EMTALA provides, CMS argues that the state law is overridden by the federal law.

But Idaho officials say EMTALA is silent on whether EMTALA’s mandated “stabilizing” care includes emergency abortion care and that the federal law cannot displace a state's own restrictions on the procedure.

ACEP filed amicus briefs in the Idaho case in 2022 and again last month with the Supreme Court. In the latest amicus brief, ACEP, ACOG and the AMA were the lead authors, joined by 23 other medical societies, and detailed the importance of protecting the physician-patient relationship, as well as ensuring that all patients receive medically sound health care that follows EMTALA.

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