Idaho doctor: Abortion access ‘integral to the practice of OB-GYN’

The Supreme Court of the United States (Credit: Jesse Collins / Wikimedia Commons)



On April 24, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case that will decide if Idaho’s strict abortion ban conflicts with a federal law mandating emergency care. The law, known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, requires hospitals to provide treatment needed to stabilize patients. 

Idaho’s law allows abortion to prevent the death of a pregnant woman but not necessarily if her health is threatened. Critics say the law is overly vague and leaves doctors vulnerable to criminal prosecution.

Speaking at a news briefing at the National Women’s Law Center on Tuesday, Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, a family physician who provides care in rural Idaho, said that abortion access is essential for doctors like her to safely practice medicine.

“I’ve had many colleagues who have left the state,” she said. “They understand that there is no practice of OB-GYN in which abortion as a health-saving, life-saving measure can be taken out.”

A report published this year by the Idaho Physician Well-Being Action Collaborative and Idaho Coalition for Safe Health Care showed that Idaho has lost 22% of its OB-GYNs since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022.

Many Idaho doctors, as well as physicians in states with similar bans, have said the language of those laws encourages them to delay care longer than is safe.

“Physicians face an ever-present danger that state officials will second-guess their medical judgment and claim that a patient wasn’t quite close enough to death,” said Molly Duane, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “EMTALA is a real protection. It says not only that hospitals can stabilize patients who need abortions, but that they must.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador has said that the state’s abortion ban does not prevent doctors from providing life-saving care to pregnant women. He says the law is not preempted, nor does it conflict with EMTALA.

But Gustafson said pregnancy complications that put the health, fertility and life of a pregnant patient at risk are a regular part of obstetrics care, adding that abortion is a medically necessary standard of care for some of those pregnancy complications.

“This care is integral to the practice of OB-GYN,” Gustafson said. “Pregnancy complications are far too common.”

“Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.”

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Molly Duane’s last name.