‘Chilling’: Supreme Court Says Idaho Can Jail Doctors for Providing Abortions

“Yet again, women’s lives are at the mercy of this extreme Court stacked by Donald Trump.”

By Jake Johnson. Published 1-6-2024 by Common Dreams

Photo: Adam Fagen/flickr/CC

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday opted to reinstate Idaho’s near-total abortion ban, a draconian law that carries up to five years in prison for doctors who perform the procedure outside of extremely narrow circumstances.

The high court, which overturned the constitutional right to abortion in the summer of 2022, agreed to hear a Justice Department challenge to Idaho’s abortion ban in April. In the meantime, it will be a crime in Idaho to perform or attempt to perform an abortion unless the procedure is deemed “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman” or if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.

“SCOTUS just allowed Idaho to throw health care providers in jail for providing emergency abortion care while they consider this case,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wrote in response to the Supreme Court’s order. “This is a chilling reminder that the anti-abortion movement doesn’t care if women live or die—as long as they’re forced to give birth.”

The Justice Department argued in its lawsuit that Idaho’s abortion ban conflicts with a federal law requiring Medicare-funded hospitals to provide certain stabilizing treatments, including abortion care.

“Beyond care necessary to prevent death, the law provides no defense whatsoever when the health of the pregnant patient is at stake,” the department’s legal challenge reads. “And, even in dire situations that might qualify for the Idaho law’s limited ‘necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman’ affirmative defense, some providers could withhold care based on a well-founded fear of criminal prosecution.”

The department warned that if Idaho’s law is permitted to stay in effect, it will prevent healthcare professionals from performing abortions “even when a doctor determines that abortion is the medically necessary treatment to prevent severe risk to the patient’s health and even in cases where denial of care will likely result in death for the pregnant patient.”

The Supreme Court’s unsigned order came days after the conservative-dominated 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas can ban abortions even in emergency situations. In Texas and across the U.S., people have faced dangerous health complications after being denied abortion care due to Republican-authored laws in their states.

Many have been forced to travel out of state to obtain care. One Idaho woman “sought an abortion in [Oregon] after doctors told her she would likely miscarry and, if she continued the pregnancy, develop a life-threatening condition,” The Idaho Statesman reported last month.

“Her trip to Oregon put so much financial strain on the family, they were unable to pay their mortgage for a month,” the newspaper added.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Friday that the Supreme Court’s order allowing Idaho’s ban to take effect is “dangerous and exceptionally cruel.”

“Now, doctors in the state cannot perform abortions even in medical emergencies,” Warren added. “Yet again, women’s lives are at the mercy of this extreme Court stacked by Donald Trump.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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