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U.S. Supreme Court accidentally posted opinion on Idaho abortion case. Here’s what it says

Idaho argued at the U.S. Supreme Court on April 24, 2024, in defense of its abortion law. The justices heard arguments as to whether federal emergency medical mandates conflict with the state’s narrow abortion exceptions.  (Nicole Blanchard)
By Nicole Blanchard Idaho Statesman

The U.S. Supreme Court may strike down Idaho’s abortion ban in medical emergencies, according to an opinion briefly posted on the court’s website Wednesday.

Bloomberg first reported on the erroneously published opinion. The business publication said the document appeared on the Supreme Court website briefly as two other opinions were published.

The opinion prioritized a federal law mandating emergency medical treatment over Idaho’s near-total abortion ban, according to Bloomberg. It’s unclear whether the document reflects the final opinion on the case, which court spokesperson Patricia McCabe told Bloomberg “will be issued in due course.” McCabe said the document was published inadvertently.

Bloomberg reported that the decision was 6-3, with justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissenting.

The opinion would not resolve the case. Instead, it would reverse a Supreme Court order issued in January that allowed Idaho’s abortion ban to take effect in medical emergencies. The case would return to the U.S. District Court for more litigation.

Bloomberg said Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote a separate opinion criticizing the decision to dismiss the case to a lower court rather than resolving it.

“Today’s decision is not a victory for pregnant patients in Idaho. It is delay,” she wrote. “While this court dawdles and the country waits, pregnant people experiencing emergency medical conditions remain in a precarious position, as their doctors are kept in the dark about what the law requires.”

Court case began after Dobbs decision

It’s been two years since the highest court returned abortion lawmaking to the states, when the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade and stripped away federal protections for the procedure. Since then, Idaho has created a few narrow exceptions to its abortion restrictions, including one to prevent the death — but not preserve the health — of a pregnant patient.

In 2022, following the SCOTUS decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state and said its strict ban violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA. EMTALA is a 1980s law requiring hospitals to provide stabilizing treatment to patients in medical emergencies.

Doctors in Idaho and with prominent medical groups, including the American Medical Association, told the Idaho Statesman and Supreme Court that abortion is the recommended stabilizing treatment for several conditions that pose a potential health threat but don’t immediately threaten a patient’s life. Physicians face prison time and loss of their medical license if they’re found guilty of performing an illegal abortion.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador has said Idaho’s abortion ban allows doctors to address medical conditions that don’t threaten imminent death.

Since the DOJ lawsuit, the case has bounced from District Court to appeals courts, with several reversals of pauses on the emergency abortion ban.