June 27, 2024

Please see below for statements from the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law’s health law experts on the Supreme Court’s decision in Moyle v. United States.

Lawrence O. Gostin, faculty director:

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow hospitals in Idaho to resume providing medically necessary care to pregnant patients is just a short reprieve for reproductive rights and basic decency in health care. The Court failed to uphold the supremacy of the EMTALA law, leaving the issue of emergency abortion care to lag in lower courts.

As stated by Justice Jackson, pregnant individuals and their doctors are “kept in the dark about what the law requires.” Patients experiencing a medical crisis, along with their providers, still face agonizing consequences when they are in desperate need of emergency medical services. Now more than ever, it is important to be clear: abortion is healthcare.

Rebecca Reingold, associate director:

The Supreme Court’s decision reinstates access to medically-necessary abortions in Idaho as the case makes its way through the lower courts. However, because it delays resolution of the merits, it prolongs the untenable situation that currently exists in states across the country. Vague and narrow medical exceptions to broad abortion bans are unworkable for physicians and illusory for their patients. They leave physicians confused about when they can provide urgent and essential reproductive health services. As Justice Jackson aptly warns in her dissent, the failure to bring “clarity and certainty to this tragic situation” means that pregnant patients will continue to pay the price.

The criminalization of care needed to treat emergency medical conditions violates not only EMTALA, but also medical ethics and international human rights obligations. International human rights law requires countries to take positive measures to guarantee abortion where the life and health of the pregnant person are at risk.

Moreover, Justice Alito’s dissent includes an interpretation of EMTALA that should serve as a stark warning to those monitoring the Court’s pronouncements on fetal personhood. His reading of the law to require hospitals to protect an “unborn child” from harm at every stage legitimizes the notion that protecting the health of the fetus can displace the obligations owed to the pregnant person.

Sheela Ranganathan, associate of the Health Policy and the Law Initiative:

By dismissing the case as improvidently granted, the Supreme Court has refused to clarify whether states can deny pregnant women federally required abortion care when such care is necessary to save their lives or preserve their health. The lack of clarity over the interplay between federally guaranteed care and restrictive state laws leaves pregnant patients in limbo due to uncertainty about their care. As Justice Jackson noted, “Pregnant women experiencing emergency conditions remain in a precarious position, as their doctors are kept in the dark about what the law requires.”

This decision does not impact the ongoing case in Texas that is pending review before the Court. As a result, in Texas, both the Biden administration’s guidance on EMTALA and access to emergency abortions remain on hold, furthering the fragmented patchwork of access to abortion care across the country. Though patients in Idaho maintain access to emergency abortions again under the protections of EMTALA, there will be continued confusion, litigation, and obstacles for pregnant patients across the country as a result of this decision by the Court.

If you are interested in interviews with the experts, please contact Heena Patel, O’Neill Institute director of strategic communications, at hp498@georgetown.edu.