Idaho Democratic leader: Stomach ‘queasy’ after Supreme Court abortion case

April 24, 2024

Idaho’s state Senate minority leader said the Supreme Court’s coming decision on her state’s abortion ban makes her “queasy,” as conservative justices heard arguments Wednesday in the latest abortion battle before the high court.

The Court heard oral arguments on the Biden administration’s mandate that hospitals that receive Medicare funding provide an abortion if its necessary to stabilize the health of an emergency room patient.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, the Democratic leader in Idaho’s state Senate, said she had little faith the Supreme Court would ultimately defend the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) mandate.

“The Supreme Court has let me down before,” Wintrow told The Hill outside the Supreme Court. “My stomach is queasy about what’s going to happen.”

The emergency care case is the latest example of abortion returning to the Supreme Court after the issue was ostensibly returned to the states in the landmark decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Last month, justices heard arguments in a case that could see sweeping changes to medication abortion access. But while a majority of justices seemed to side with the Department of Justice in that case, the conservative majority appeared more sympathetic to Idaho on Wednesday.

Idaho’s Defense of Life Act is one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, providing exception only to save the life of a patient.

The federal law EMTALA, or the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, requires federally funded hospitals to provide stabilizing care to emergency room patients, even if they can’t pay.

The Biden administration argues EMTALA requires hospitals to administer an abortion if it is necessary not only to save a life, but to prevent seriously negative health outcomes, regardless of state law.

Wintrow said her state’s resistance to the mandate hurts a small, vulnerable group of people.

“We’re talking about the smallest number of emergencies,” Wintrow said. “The state of Idaho is using tax dollars to fight against a federal law that protects you in a crisis.”

Idaho House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D), who joined Wintrow on the court steps, said her GOP colleagues should have taken the DOJ’s intervention as “a gift,” an opportunity to back away from the state’s “incredibly extreme” law passed years before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“[Idaho Republicans] should have just said ‘thank you, you’re Honor, you’re right. We didn’t really mean to kill women who were in medical emergencies,'” Rubel said.

The Idaho Democratic leaders said Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, whose office is defending the state law, is “beyond the pale,” and that the ban is scaring away high-stakes paternal care workers in the state.

“We’ve lost 55 percent of our high-risk maternity specialists [in Idaho]. There are now parts of the state where you have to travel 170 miles just to get to an OB-GYN,” Rubel said.

Labrador, who greeted supporters at the steps after oral arguments, called the Democratic leaders’ statements “an exaggeration.”

“The Supreme Court was really clear that [the threshold for legal abortion] didn’t need to be imminent death, that it’s a subjective standard,” Labrador said.

“I think what’s shameful is that some in the medical community and some lawyers are trying to confuse the public, and they’re scaring pregnant women and scaring doctors.”

Labrador also said Idaho’s loss of high-risk maternal care workers is not specific to the state, and that neighboring states like Oregon, a blue state, are experiencing the same problems.

Labrador would not comment on how the justices received Idaho’s arguments, saying that he couldn’t “read the tea leaves.”

However, he did indicate that he believed the conservative court would side with his state.

“It’s important for the Court to protect the sovereignty of the state of Idaho, and after Dobbs, they clearly indicated it’s up to the states to determine the extent of abortion coverage in most states,” he told The Hill.