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As SCOTUS nod allows emergency abortions, Illinois is set to protect them in law

Supreme Court. Justices. Court. Judgement. Court.
Kaz Fantone
Supreme Court. Justices. Court. Judgement. Court.

Illinois Democrats passed measure last month that sought to codify federal law if it was stricken down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Abortion remains legal as an emergency medical procedure in Idaho, for now, after a Thursday U.S. Supreme Court ruling, while a bill that would cement those protections in Illinois law awaits Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature.

The 6-3 decision saw the three liberal justices concur with the order. Three of the court’s conservatives – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – concurred separately. The dismissal sent the case back to the lower courts and reinstated a temporary injunction on Idaho’s law banning all abortions except as “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman” or in the case of rape or incest.

The case originated after the Justice Department sued Idaho shortly after its abortion ban went into place in the summer of 2022. The Justice Department claimed the state was in violation of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA, which it said allowed medical professionals to perform abortions to prevent “grave harm,” not just death, in order to resolve medical emergencies.

Thursday’s order dismisses the case as “improvidently granted,” meaning the court decided it shouldn’t have agreed to hear the case at this stage. It does not permanently resolve the case, as it will continue in the lower courts and could potentially end up in front of the high court’s justices again.

“Today’s ruling thus puts the case back where it belongs, and with the preliminary injunction in place,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a concurrence with the court’s dismissal.

The decision drew ire from the high court’s dissenters, with Justice Samuel Alito writing that, having already agreed to hear the question, there was “no good reason to change course now.”

“Apparently, the Court has simply lost the will to decide the easy but emotional and highly politicized question that the case presents,” Alito wrote. “That is regrettable.”

The decision drew cautious support from abortion-rights activists. Gov. JB Pritzker, in a statement issued through his abortion-rights organization Think Big America, accused Republicans of “fighting to let hospitals refuse care for dying women.”

“Today’s ruling offers a small respite from some of the harshest outcomes, but it is not the broad protection that women and healthcare professionals are owed,” Pritzker said in the statement.

Pritzker, a longtime proponent of abortion rights, is expected to sign a bill sometime soon that would enshrine protections similar to the federal EMTALA law in Illinois statute.

The proposal, House Bill 581, would codify abortions as a “stabilizing treatment” that doctors must offer when necessary, in emergency situations such as ectopic pregnancy, preeclampsia, and fertility loss related to pregnancy complications. The measure passed on partisan lines.

Its chief sponsor, Rep. Dagmara Avelar, D-Bolingbrook, said on Thursday that the “primary reason” the bill was introduced was to preserve the status quo in case a Supreme Court decision casts doubt on EMTALA’s coverage of abortion procedures.

“While the Supreme Court preserved EMTALA for now, it has not ruled out future legal battles,” Avelar told Capitol News Illinois.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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Andrew Adams