Supreme Court arguments on emergency room abortions

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In this sketch from court, attorney Josh Turney argues during a Supreme Court hearing on the Biden administration’s challenge to aspects of Idaho’s strict abortion ban on Wednesday, April 24, at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
In this sketch from court, attorney Josh Turney argues during a Supreme Court hearing on the Biden administration’s challenge to aspects of Idaho’s strict abortion ban on Wednesday, April 24, at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Bill Hennessy

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday on whether Idaho’s abortion ban can be enforced in medical emergencies, putting a spotlight on what has been one of the most politically explosive flashpoints in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade’s demise. 

Here are key takeaways from today’s high-stakes hearing:

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US solicitor general tailors her appeal to an abortion-hostile court as “narrow” circumstances of medical emergencies: US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said that there was a real conflict between Idaho’s law and the federal law, known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), but she painted it as a narrow one. She stressed that, in this case, the administration is not trying to interfere with Idaho’s overall ability to criminalize abortions outside of certain medical emergencies.

Idaho and its defenders argue that the Biden administration is trying to circumvent the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling that let states prohibit abortion, and to rebut that argument, Prelogar described Idaho has an outlier among states that have banned the procedure.

Prelogar’s argument was met with deep skepticism from several of the court’s conservative justices, but others – including Chief Justice John Roberts and Amy Coney Barrett– asked probing questions of both sides. The court’s liberal wing, meanwhile, all signaled they would coalesce around the Biden administration.

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Idaho attorney struggles with questions from female justices about serious pregnancy complications: Idaho’s attorney Joshua Turner was subjected to a brutal and extended line of questioning from the female justices of the court exploring how the state’s abortion ban plays out in medical emergencies – particularly in dire situations where a woman’s health is at risk but her life is not yet in danger.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Turner point blank: “What you are saying is that there is no federal law on the book that prohibits any state from saying, even if a woman will die, you can’t perform an abortion?”

Justice Elena Kagan offered a hypothetical in which a woman was about to lose her reproductive organs due to a pregnancy complication. As Turner danced around the “difficult” and “tough” situation her question as posing, she pushed harder: “That would be a good response if federal law did not take a position on what you characterize as a ‘tough question.’”

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Keep reading takeaways from the arguments.



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