How the US Supreme Court is handling abortion after Roe v. Wade

People gather during a protest in support of reproductive rights and emergency abortion care, as Supreme Court justices hear arguments over Idaho's near-total abortion ban in medical-emergency situations, in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
explainer

People gather during a protest in support of reproductive rights and emergency abortion care, as Supreme Court justices hear arguments over Idaho's near-total abortion ban in medical-emergency situations, in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

What’s the context?

Why abortion rights activists are breathing easier - for now at least - as the court ends its term

  • U.S. court appears poised to allow emergency abortions in Idaho

  • Top court has ruled to preserve abortion pill access

  • Abortion rights activists relieved but wary

RICHMOND - Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a constitutional right to abortion, the court ruled on Thursday that Idaho can still provide emergency abortions - for now at least - despite the state's strict ban.

Justices allowed for emergency abortion care in Idaho but did not rule on key issues underlying the state ban, according to the opinion issued by the court. 

In another ruling on June 13, the top U.S. court preserved nationwide access to a widely used abortion drug.

Abortion rights advocates expressed some relief that the court has chosen not to crack down harder on abortion - even if it had set the stage for more battles ahead.

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The court typically finalises cases before it and goes into recess at the end of June or early July. The latest rulings came as the campaign season heats up ahead of federal elections in November, with abortion a top issue for voters.

Here's what to know:

What abortion-related cases is the Court ruling on?

Two years on from the landmark ruling to scrap a national right to abortion, related cases have all been closely watched.

The Idaho ruling is over a near-total abortion ban in the state that it says is in conflict with a federal law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), that is supposed to guarantee a right to emergency care.

President Joe Biden's administration sued Idaho over its abortion ban, which has an exception allowing for an abortion to save a woman's life. Idaho officials appealed a ruling by a lower court that said federal law trumps state law when they conflict.

Justices turned aside the case and returned the matter to lower courts, in the opinion issued on June 27.

The ruling means that hospitals in the state will be able to provide emergency abortions.

Abortion rights supporter and anti-abortion activists square off on the day the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the legality of Idaho's Republican-backed, near-total abortion ban in medical-emergency situations, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Abortion rights supporter and anti-abortion activists square off on the day the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the legality of Idaho's Republican-backed, near-total abortion ban in medical-emergency situations, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Abortion rights supporter and anti-abortion activists square off on the day the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the legality of Idaho's Republican-backed, near-total abortion ban in medical-emergency situations, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In a separate case in June, Supreme Court justices ruled against a group of doctors who had challenged the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of abortion medication, saying in a 9-0 opinion the doctors lacked standing to bring the case.     

The medics had challenged the FDA's approval of the drug mifepristone, which is used in abortions - often in combination with misoprostol, another drug.

The Biden administration had appealed a lower court's ruling that would have limited the drug's distribution.

Most abortions in the United States are carried out by pill, so the consequences would have been far-reaching.

U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta delivers remarks during the announcement that the U.S. is suing Idaho over a state law that imposes a 'near-absolute ban' on abortion at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta delivers remarks during the announcement that the U.S. is suing Idaho over a state law that imposes a "near-absolute ban" on abortion at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta delivers remarks during the announcement that the U.S. is suing Idaho over a state law that imposes a "near-absolute ban" on abortion at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

What are the next legal battles?

Both issues will likely continue to be litigated, after the justices declined to formally weigh in on one side or the other on the principles of abortion access.

In a statement, Biden had hailed the Supreme Court decision on abortion medication but said "it does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues."

The decision to reject the case on a basis of the plaintiffs not having the legal standing to bring the challenge means others could potentially revive the same issues in future.

Similarly, in the Idaho case, both abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion advocates said the ruling is unlikely to be the final word on the matter.

Katie Daniel, state policy director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion advocacy group, cast the decision as a temporary setback, while abortion rights campaigners have warned the top court has left the door open to future rulings against emergency abortion care.

U.S. Representative Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said "the Supreme Court has senselessly declined to affirm the universal right to emergency medical care."

"The fact that this is still in question underscores the dark reality of post-Roe America," she added.

This explainer was updated on June 14 and June 27 to reflect latest developments at the Supreme Court.

(Reporting by David Sherfinski; Editing by Jon Hemming and Clar Ni Chonghaile.)


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