Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > News

SCOTUS’ Latest Ruling Protects Emergency Abortion, But Only To An Extent

The issue of reproductive rights in the U.S. has been widely debated in recent years, and has become an especially hot topic with the upcoming presidential election. Now, a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling has added another layer to the discussion.

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court formally announced its vote to temporarily allow emergency medical abortions in the state of Idaho, following the state’s near-total ban enacted after the reversal of Roe v. Wade. The decision was briefly and prematurely posted on the Supreme Court’s website on Wednesday, June 26, before becoming official the following day.

While originally considering the case in January, SCOTUS allowed Idaho to enforce its ban, but this ruling dissolves that order. Now, the decision reinstates a lower court order that temporarily allows hospitals to perform abortions to protect the life and health of the pregnant person. 

The vote was split 6-3, with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Chief Justice John Roberts voting in favor of the order. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Many in country expected SCOTUS’ decision to directly address EMTALA, a federal law that has been a subject of debate in the courts since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but it was not mentioned in this ruling. Because of this, the question of whether EMTALA overrides Idaho’s near-total ban in emergency circumstances is likely to return to the Supreme Court after more proceedings.

Here’s a breakdown of what SCOTUS’ recent decision means.

What is EMTALA?

EMTALA stands for the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Care Act. Congress originally passed EMTALA in 1986 to prevent hospitals from refusing care to uninsured patients or sending patients to other hospitals when they need life-saving care. 

According to EMTALA, as a condition for hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding, emergency departments are required to stabilize any patient whose life or health is at risk. According to NPR, the Justice Department argued that this necessary stabilizing treatment may include abortion, if that procedure would save a person’s life. 

Why Was SCOTUS Ruling On This Case?

The Justice Department has argued that EMTALA overrides state bans in instances where the two conflict. Because of this, the Justice Department sued the state of Idaho for its near-total abortion ban (which was introduced post-Roe), claiming the ban conflicted with EMTALA

And so, the question became: Did Idaho act within its state rights, or is this state law overruled by EMTALA? 

In January, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether EMTALA preempts state laws like Idaho’s that ban most abortions, but allowed the state to continue enforcing its ban in full until coming to a decision.

What Does This Ruling Mean For Abortion Access?

In short: SCOTUS’ 6-3 decision reinforces that all states must follow the federal standard of care in emergency rooms, requiring patients to be stabilized by all means necessary — meaning in some situations, emergency abortion in Idaho must be allowed.

In the published opinion on the ruling, Justice Elena Kagan stated that the June 27 decision will “prevent Idaho from enforcing its abortion ban when the termination of a pregnancy is needed to prevent serious harms to women.”

However, this is only a tenuous win for abortion care, since SCOTUS did not end up answering the question of whether EMTALA takes precedence over Idaho’s abortion law; instead, the court just said that some life-saving abortions are legal in the state. This indicates this decision is simply a delay before SCOTUS has to come to a more permanent, widespread solution regarding EMTALA.

Because of this, instead of celebrating, many reproductive rights activists and political leaders are issuing warnings to voters following this decision. Reproductive Freedom For All CEO Mini Timmaraju said in a statement that SCOTUS is simply “punting so that they [don’t] need to weigh in before an election.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson shared similar sentiments in her opinion on the decision. “Today’s victory is not a victory for pregnant patients in Idaho. It is delay.”
Thus, although SCOTUS’ decision is a tentative victory for reproductive rights, it doesn’t mean that the issue won’t arise later — in fact, it likely will. Abortion issues have simply been removed from the Supreme Court’s immediate docket for now, and, according to NPR, further decisions are expected to be made this summer.

Cate Scott

Syracuse '26

Cate Scott is a third-year Syracuse University student pursuing a dual degree in journalism and creative writing. Actively contributing to multiple campus publications and constantly learning about the journalism field in her courses, she is dedicated to expanding her writing skills across various disciplines and formats. She is currently based in Greater Boston and is interested in exploring magazine writing, politics, investigative work, and culture. Cate has been reading and writing poetry and personal essays for years. She hopes to pursue creative writing as well as her journalistic passions in her future career. Beyond her academic pursuits, Cate is a runner and seasoned music nerd. She is on her school's club sailing team and is a proud and active sorority member. The highlights of her weeks include hosting her college radio show, exploring Syracuse, finding time to play her guitar, and doing it all with her roommates and best friends. A native New Englander, Cate spends her summers taking the train into Boston and hiking with her German Shepherd, Maggie.