The Supreme Court will decide this term whether Idaho can enforce its abortion ban as it applies to emergency rooms, and allowed the state to do so as the case is pending.
The justices issued a brief order Friday on an emergency application in November from state officials, who asked the justices to intervene in the case and allow them to enforce the law.
A district court judge had sided with the Biden administration and blocked implementation of the state law, finding that it violated the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. That federal law requires emergency departments to treat and stabilize any patient, and doctors there could conclude an abortion is necessary to do so.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit initially ruled in favor of the law, but the full court later paused the law while the case played out.
The Supreme Court order puts on hold the lower court rulings and sets a timeline for oral arguments to be held in April.
In the petition filed in November, the state argued the lower court rulings in the case “strips Idaho of its sovereign interest in protecting innocent human life and turns emergency rooms into a federal enclave where state standards of care do not apply.”
The Biden administration defended the challenge, arguing that the state law “criminalizes care required by federal law.”
Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, in the ruling that temporarily blocked the law, wrote that a doctor making those complex, difficult decisions in a fast-moving, chaotic environment “may well find herself facing the impossible task of attempting to simultaneously comply with both federal and state law.”
The case is one of dozens percolating through the courts following the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned a constitutional right to an abortion.
Once the court issued the Dobbs decision the state enacted a near-total ban on abortions, with exceptions for the life of the mother and when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
The Idaho law has been in courts for more than a year. The state appealed Winmill’s ruling, and a panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit then issued a ruling that would have allowed the law to go into effect.
Then, in November, an en banc panel of 9th Circuit judges again put the law on pause, and the state asked the justices to intervene.
The state argued the federal emergency care law at issue is meant to prevent “patient dumping” — hospitals turning away sick patients who could not pay for care — not allow the federal government to dictate state law.