Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson slams court for punting Idaho decision in scathing dissent

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson slams court for punting Idaho decision in scathing dissent

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson slammed her Supreme Court colleagues for punting a decision about Idaho’s strict abortion ban Thursday, saying in a charged dissent that the court has failed pregnant women in the state.

Forcefully reading her dissent from the bench, Jackson said the ruling was “not a victory for pregnant patients in Idaho,” even though doctors will be allowed to provide emergency abortions as the case is litigated in lower courts.

“Not doing anything is problematic,” Jackson said from the bench, noting the court had the opportunity “to bring clarity and certainty to this tragic situation, and we have squandered it.”

The case centered on the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires federally funded hospitals to provide stabilizing care to emergency room patients no matter their ability to pay.

Abortion is the standard of care to stabilize many pregnancy-related conditions, and hospitals have long provided the procedure when necessary.

The court ruled 6-3 to dismiss the case as improvidently granted, which means Idaho hospitals that receive federal funding must allow emergency abortions to take place even though state laws ban almost all abortions.

Jackson said Idaho’s abortion ban clearly conflicts with federal law, and the court did nothing to resolve that tension.

“Idaho’s law must yield,” she said from the bench, pausing briefly between each word for emphasis.

Jackson pointed out that the U.S. is essentially hamstrung in its ability to enforce federal law while the court “dawdles,” and that states across the country continue to enact legislation that nullifies EMTALA, most notably in Texas.

“How long must pregnant patients wait for an answer?” Jackson wrote, noting the federal government has already asked the court to hear the Texas case.

“Will this Court just have a do-over, rehearing and rehashing the same arguments we are considering now, just at a comparatively more convenient point in time? Or maybe we will keep punting on this issue altogether, allowing chaos to reign wherever lower courts enable States to flagrantly undercut federal law, facilitating the suffering of people in need of urgent medical treatment.”

The ruling marks a minor, temporary victory for the Biden administration, which has struggled to protect access to abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago. But dismissing the appeal from Idaho won’t resolve the legal questions and will merely send the case back to the appeals court instead of rushing it through to the highest level.

Lauren Irwin contributed.

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