Protecting Access to Emergency Abortion Care is a Matter of Life or Death

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in consolidated cases Idaho v. U.S. and Moyle v. U.S. that threaten the lives of pregnant people across the country by jeopardizing access to emergency abortion care.

Christian nationalists continue to ram through their unpopular and dangerous agenda to systematically dismantle access to life-saving abortion care across the country. Prompted by the disastrous decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade protections, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) now finds itself on the chopping block.

The issue at hand is whether or not EMTALA, a federal law, preempts Idaho’s extreme abortion ban and whether Idaho must allow for emergency abortions to take place in hospitals in situations where pregnant people require immediate stabilizing care when their lives are at risk. To put this into context, since Idaho’s ban became law, there are reports of numerous pregnant women being airlifted out of state to receive life-saving emergency abortions because the risk for doctors who provide abortion care to save the life of their patient is huge. If the already tainted Supreme Court sides with anti-abortion extremists and Christian nationalists, the results will be catastrophic across the nation and, let there be no confusion: people will die. Despite forcing the false title of “pro-life” down the throats of the public for decades, it’s abundantly clear that these people have no issue with pregnant people dying, even in scenarios where the death of the person will result in the death of the fetus too.

EMTALA was passed in 1986 for the purpose of ensuring that patients can receive stabilizing treatment at a hospital in emergency scenarios regardless of ability to pay, citizenship status, etc. This crucial law is the reason that emergency rooms cannot turn individuals away from receiving stabilizing care and has invariably saved thousands upon thousands lives since being enacted. The law has also been upheld as precedent for nearly four decades.

In Tuesday’s oral arguments, Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan made forceful arguments in support of EMTALA and poked major holes in the plaintiff’s arguments; however, with a 6-3 conservative majority on the Court, the future of EMTALA protections for emergency abortions remains precarious. Ever since the Supreme Court created open season on overturning long-standing precedents, the Christian nationalist right has determined that the iron is hot for striking down all access to abortion and contraception across the country. So far, this insidious calculation has been, unfortunately, correct.

These attacks on abortion access attempt to enforce Christian nationalist ideals upon an unconsenting nation by taking over institutions, in this case an unelected institution in our Supreme Court, and weaponizing them against marginalized people. Abortion access is popular in the United States and support is growing—1 in 8 people now say that protecting abortion access is the most important issue to them in the 2024 election, according to KFF, an independent health policy research and news organization. Prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned, the same poll notes that the majority of individuals who said that abortion was their top issue were anti-abortion. This is a seismic shift in just a couple of years and underscores the importance of the issue of expanding access to abortion across the country in upcoming elections.

There exists significant daylight between the Supreme Court’s values, the values of far right Christian nationalist lawmakers and activists, and the values of the average American. In a democracy, consent of the governed is the most basic requirement for a social contract between the people and their elected representatives. By continuing to impose a fascist agenda aimed at controlling people’s bodies and pregnancy outcomes, the Supreme Court risks being permanently viewed as a political body whose sole purpose is to roll back civil rights.

To protect not only abortion access but the entirety of our fledgling democracy, we must protect our institutions from corruption and extremism and we must stop imposing the narrow views of a small minority of people upon a nation of more than 340 million people.

The Supreme Court must put their extremist ideals away for a moment and act now to save the lives of pregnant people across the country by preserving EMTALA.