Saturday, May 18, 2024

OPINION: SCOTUS to decide if abortion law goes too far

by CHUCK MALLOY/Guest Opinion
| May 2, 2024 10:54 AM

If anybody can understand the importance of emergency care during a pregnancy, it’s Rep. Ilana Rubel of Boise, the House minority leader. She has plenty of life experience on that matter.

“Fifteen years ago, my fourth child had a rare blood antigen triggering an attack response from my body during pregnancy,” she said. “Thankfully I was in the care of a fetal maternal specialist who identified the problem and had me go through high-resolution ultrasounds several times a week to make sure blood oxygen to my son’s brain wasn’t dropping too low. One day that test showed that his blood oxygen was dropping dangerously and I had to have an emergency C-section within the hour.”

This story has a happy ending. Rubel’s son is a straight-A student and taking AP Physics as a 9th grader. It’s fortunate that her story was from 15 years ago, when there were more than a few doctors qualified to handle her situation.

“Without the intervention of that fetal maternal specialist, he would have been born brain dead,” she said. “The majority of these specialists have left Idaho because its abortion ban makes it too risky to practice here and have to choose, in many cases, between malpractice and prison.”

Rubel isn’t talking about whether abortion should be legal, although she’s decidedly pro-choice on the issue. The question is over whether abortion can be allowed as an emergency procedure to save life of a mother, an issue that is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorney General Raul Labrador says the uproar over emergency-care abortions is much ado about nothing and that Idaho’s abortion law makes exceptions to save the life of a mother, or in the cases of rape or incest.

“Idaho’s law is fully consistent with federal law,” he says.

Rubel is not convinced, with doctors and specialists leaving the state in droves, and pregnant mothers being airlifted to other states to receive the care they need. She’s also seeing a fair amount of tax dollars being spent fighting for a cause that, to her, doesn’t make sense.

As you might expect, politics are at the forefront. Labrador says he’s asking the Supreme Court to prevent the Biden administration from manipulating federal law to override Idaho’s Defense of Life Act.

“The administration’s radical interpretation of federal law is nothing more than a lawless disregard for Idaho’s right to protect life,” Labrador said. Idaho’s law is “perfectly consistent with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which provides explicit protections for unborn children in four separate places. But the Biden administration is trying to use one life affirming law to invalidate another.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on this case sometime in September. In the meantime, there will be plenty to say from both sides. Last week on the steps of the Supreme Court, Labrador was holding a news conference while Rubel and Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow of Boise were participating in a rally.

“In Idaho, we are on the front lines of the horror that was unleashed upon women and medical professionals when (Roe v. Wade) was overturned. Idaho has the most extreme abortion ban in America. The only exception is if the patient faces certain death. Likely death, no exception. Possible death, organ loss, no exception. Paralysis, permanent infertility — no exception,” Rubel said in a prepared statement.

“None of this is enough to permit an abortion, and any doctor who acts to save a woman in such an emergency faces years in prison. This is not OK,” she said.

Wintrow said that EMTALA has provided a lifeline for at least emergency abortion care, “but extremists in our state fought to cut that lifeline and take even that sliver of protection away. The impact of this case will extend far beyond Idaho. If EMTALA is not found to protect emergency abortion care, the safety of pregnant folks is in danger across the country.”

It was a spirited rally, for sure, and Labrador made his point in the news conference and in oral arguments to the Supreme Court. But the anxiety has just begun as we wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling, and the potential fallout.

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Silver Valley native Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at