Supreme Court Appears Sharply Divided in Emergency Abortion Case

The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided on Wednesday over whether federal law should allow doctors to perform emergency abortions in states with near-total bans on the procedure, in a case that could determine access to abortion in emergency rooms across the country.

The lively, two-hour argument focused on a clash between Idaho, whose law limits access to abortion unless the life of the pregnant woman is in danger, and federal law. Questioning by the justices suggested a divide along ideological — and possibly gender — lines.

“What Idaho is doing is waiting for women to wait and deteriorate and suffer the lifelong health consequences with no possible upside for the fetus,” said Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, arguing on behalf of the federal government. “It just stacks tragedy upon tragedy.”

Justice Elena Kagan interjected that the current situation seemed untenable: “It can’t be the right standard of care to force somebody onto a helicopter.”

Although the collision between the two laws affects only those women who face dire medical complications during pregnancy, a broad decision could have implications for more than a dozen states that have enacted near-total bans on abortion since the court overturned a constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022.

The dispute was the second time in less than a month that the Supreme Court has grappled with abortion. It is a potent reminder that even after Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. vowed in 2022 that the issue would return to elected representatives, it continues to make its way back to the court. In late March, the justices considered the availability of the abortion pill mifepristone.

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