April 01, 2024

Wyden, Colleagues File Amicus Brief Urging Supreme Court to Affirm that Federal Law Requires Hospitals to Provide Emergency Stabilizing Care Including Abortion Care

Lawmakers argue that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act is clear: Medicare covered hospitals must provide abortion care when it is the necessary stabilizing treatment for a patient’s emergency medical condition

Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said today he has joined Senate and House colleagues  in leading an amicus brief submission to the U.S. Supreme Court in Moyle v. United States and Idaho v. United States, two consolidated cases concerning the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) that the Supreme Court will hear this month. 

The act requires hospitals that receive Medicare funding to provide necessary “stabilizing treatment” to patients experiencing medical emergencies, which can include abortion care. After the Dobbs decision in 2022, Idaho enacted an anti-abortion law that made it a felony for doctors to terminate a patient’s pregnancy unless it is “necessary” to prevent the patient’s death.

The amicus brief supports the position of the U.S. Justice Department with the lawmakers asking the Supreme Court to uphold the district court’s ruling that Idaho’s state law is overridden by the act in circumstances where an abortion may not be necessary to prevent imminent death, but still constitutes the necessary stabilizing treatment for a patient’s emergency medical condition. 

“[T]he 99th Congress passed EMTALA to ensure that every person who visits a Medicare-funded hospital with an ‘emergency medical condition’ is offered stabilizing treatment,” the Members wrote in their amicus brief. “Congress chose broad language for that mandate, requiring hospitals that participate in the Medicare program to provide ‘such treatment as may be required to stabilize the medical condition.’… That text—untouched by Congress for the past three decades—makes clear that in situations in which a doctor determines that abortion constitutes the ‘[n]ecessary stabilizing treatment’ for a pregnant patient… federal law requires the hospital to offer it. Yet Idaho has made providing that care a felony, in direct contravention of EMTALA’s mandate that it be offered.”

Importantly, the Members note that in this case, “respecting the supremacy of federal law is about more than just protecting our system of government; it is about protecting people’s lives. If this Court allows Idaho’s near-total abortion ban to supersede federal law, pregnant patients in Idaho will continue to be denied appropriate medical treatment, placing them at heightened risk for medical complications and severe adverse health outcomes. And health care providers, forced to let Idaho’s abortion law take precedence over their medical judgment about their patients’ best interests, will continue their exile from Idaho, creating maternity-care ‘deserts’ all over the state.”  

“These are not hypothetical scenarios. Because Idaho’s abortion ban contains no clear exceptions for the ‘emergency medical conditions’ covered by EMTALA, physicians are forced to wait until their patients are on the verge of death before providing abortion care. The result in other states with similar laws has been ‘significant maternal morbidity,’” wrote the Members, pointing to harrowing reports of pregnant women with severe health complications being denied necessary abortion care. “Federal law does not allow Idaho to endanger the lives of its residents in this way.”

The lawmakers conclude by asking the Supreme Court to affirm the district court’s decision that the law requires Medicare-participating hospitals to provide abortion care when it is necessary as emergency medical treatment.

In the Senate, the amicus brief was led in addition to Wyden by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). In addition, 45 U.S. Senators signed on.

In the House, the brief was led by U.S. Representatives Hakeem Jefferies (D-N.Y.), Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and was signed by a total of 209 U.S. Representatives.