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Supreme Court appears skeptical that state abortion bans conflict with federal health care law

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Supreme Court appears skeptical that state abortion bans conflict with federal health care law
News

News

Supreme Court appears skeptical that state abortion bans conflict with federal health care law

2024-04-25 04:49 Last Updated At:04:50

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservative Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical Wednesday that state abortion bans after their sweeping ruling overturning Roe v. Wade violate federal healthcare law, though some also questioned the effects on emergency care for pregnant patients.

The case marks the first time the Supreme Court has considered the implications of a state ban since overturning the nationwide right to abortion. It comes from Idaho, which is among 14 states that now ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy with very limited exceptions.

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Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservative Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical Wednesday that state abortion bans after their sweeping ruling overturning Roe v. Wade violate federal healthcare law, though some also questioned the effects on emergency care for pregnant patients.

Anti-Abortion activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Anti-Abortion activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Anti-Abortion and Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Anti-Abortion and Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abortion rights activists, covered in blankets with red paint, lie down as they rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abortion rights activists, covered in blankets with red paint, lie down as they rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

FILE - The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, March 7, 2024. The Supreme Court is considering a case that will determine when doctors can provide abortions during medical emergencies in states with bans enacted after the high court's sweeping decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

FILE - The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, March 7, 2024. The Supreme Court is considering a case that will determine when doctors can provide abortions during medical emergencies in states with bans enacted after the high court's sweeping decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The high court has already allowed the state ban to go into effect, even in medical emergencies, and it was unclear whether members of the conservative majority were swayed by the Biden administration's argument that federal law overrides the state in rare emergency cases where a pregnant patient's health is at serious risk.

The closely watched case tests how open the court is to carving out limited exceptions to state abortion bans. Their ruling, expected by late June, will also affect a similar case in Texas and could have wide implications amid a spike in complaints that pregnant women have been turned away from emergency rooms care since Roe was overturned.

The Biden administration says abortion care must be allowed in those cases under a law that requires hospitals accepting Medicare to provide emergency care regardless of patients' ability to pay.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, was doubtful. “How can you impose restrictions on what Idaho can criminalize, simply because hospitals in Idaho have chosen to participate in Medicare?” Alito said.

Idaho contends its ban does have exceptions for life-saving abortions, and the administration wants to wrongly expand the times when it's allowed to turn hospitals into “abortion enclaves."

But liberal justices detailed cases of pregnant women hemorrhaging or having to undergo hysterectomies after abortion care was denied or delayed in states with bans.

“Within these rare cases, there’s a significant number where the woman’s life is not in peril, but she’s going to lose her reproductive organs. She’s going to lose the ability to have children in the future unless an abortion takes place,” said Justice Elena Kagan.

Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, meanwhile, said she was “kind of shocked” that an attorney for Idaho appeared to hedge when asked whether the state would allow abortions in cases like those. Attorney Joshua N. Turner responded that doctors can use their “good faith” medical judgment under Idaho's life-saving exception, but Barrett continued to press: “What if the prosecutor thinks differently?”

Turner acknowledged that a doctor could face a criminal case in that situation. Performing an abortion outside of limited exceptions in Idaho is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Most Republican-controlled states have started enforcing new bans or restrictions since Roe was overturned, and Turner said those laws all have narrower exceptions than the federal law.

“This isn’t going to end with Idaho. This question is going to come up in state after state," he said.

Doctors have said Idaho’s abortion ban has already affected emergency care. More women whose conditions are typically treated with abortions must now be flown out of state for care, since doctors must wait until they are close to death to provide terminations within the bounds of state law.

Abortion opponents say doctors have mishandled maternal emergency cases, and argue the Biden administration overstates health care woes to undermine state abortion laws.

The justices also heard another abortion case this term seeking to restrict access to abortion medication. It remains pending, though the justices overall seemed skeptical of the push.

The Justice Department originally brought the case against Idaho, arguing the state’s abortion law conflicts with the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, known as EMTALA. It requires hospitals that accept Medicare to provide emergency care to any patient regardless of their ability to pay. Nearly all hospitals accept Medicare.

A federal judge initially sided with the administration and ruled that abortions were legal in medical emergencies. After the state appealed, the Supreme Court allowed the law to go fully into effect in January.

The audience was sparse inside the court, with several benches empty or sparingly used. But outside, dueling protesters gathered with signs such as “Abortion saves lives,” from one side of the crowd and “Emergency rooms are not abortion clinics” from abortion opponents.

Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Anti-Abortion activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Anti-Abortion activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Anti-Abortion and Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Anti-Abortion and Abortion-rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abortion rights activists, covered in blankets with red paint, lie down as they rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abortion rights activists, covered in blankets with red paint, lie down as they rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

FILE - The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, March 7, 2024. The Supreme Court is considering a case that will determine when doctors can provide abortions during medical emergencies in states with bans enacted after the high court's sweeping decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

FILE - The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, March 7, 2024. The Supreme Court is considering a case that will determine when doctors can provide abortions during medical emergencies in states with bans enacted after the high court's sweeping decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — As the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured the Houston area on Tuesday to assess the damage from last week’s deadly storms, local officials reassured residents still without power that their lights would be back on and they could soon begin rebuilding their lives.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire said crews with CenterPoint Energy had been working hard to restore power to residents dealing with temperatures of about 90 degrees (32 Celsius) and heat indexes approaching 100 degrees (38 Celsius).

At the height of the power outages, nearly 1 million people in the Houston area were without electricity. By Tuesday evening, that was down to less than 95,000.

“We’re on top of it. No one is being neglected,” Whitmire said.

The widespread destruction of last Thursday’s storms left at least eight dead and brought much of Houston to a standstill. Thunderstorms and hurricane-force winds tore through the city, reducing businesses and other structures to piles of debris, uprooting trees and shattering glass from downtown skyscrapers. A tornado also touched down near the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress.

Some downtown streets remained closed as crews continued cleaning up glass as the strong winds damaged 3,250 windows on high-rise buildings. Officials said it could take months to repair all the windows.

The deadly winds tore through a wide swath of Harris County, where Houston is located, causing damage and knocking out the power in both lower income and wealthier neighborhoods.

Last week’s storms took place as the Houston area and several Texas counties to the north were still recovering from flooding caused by heavy rainfall in late April and early May.

FEMA has approved small business loans and federal disaster assistance, which can help pay for temporary housing and repairs, for both weather events.

More than 48,000 people in the affected counties that were declared disaster areas have already applied for assistance, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said Tuesday. The agency has already issued more than $1 million in help to residents.

“We know that thousands in the region are still without power. So again, I encourage you to continue to check in on your loved ones, your neighbors, your vulnerable individuals in your communities and make sure that they’re OK,” Criswell said.

Lisa Reed, a teacher who lives in the Cloverleaf neighborhood in east Harris County, had been without power for four days before finally getting it back Monday evening.

“I felt exhilarated. It was real good to be just back in my own home,” Reed said.

But Reed said one of her daughters and her son, who both live nearby, were still without power on Tuesday. Even with the power back on, some of Reed’s neighbors were dealing with sparking wires and other electrical problems.

“It’s frustrating seeing people struggle. You wish you could do more,” she said. “Everyone doesn’t have the resources.”

Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones, whose home still didn’t have power on Tuesday, said the deadly storms have had a severe impact on many lower-income residents.

In one area in the Spring Branch neighborhood in northwest Harris County, many damaged apartment complexes are “completely unlivable” with damaged roofs and debris that is not being cleaned up by landlords or owners. Briones said many of the families in these complexes are living paycheck to paycheck.

“The choice is to stay in these substandard, unlivable conditions or be homeless. And so, we are working actively on the long-term legal issues,” she said.

Michelle Hundley, a spokesperson for CenterPoint Energy, said the utility provider still expected to restore power to more than 90% of customers by Wednesday. If someone didn’t have power by Wednesday, it would most likely be due to damaged equipment at their home that the homeowner would need to fix.

“Certainly our linemen and all of our employees are very diligent in working to make sure that your electricity is up and running, and we will do the absolute best that we can,” Hundley said.

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said some underserved communities might feel left out “because they see lights in nicer-looking neighborhoods go up. I just want to say you’re not forgotten. You’re not left behind.”

Authorities had initially reported the deadly storms were being blamed for at least seven deaths. On Sunday, authorities raised the total to eight to include a man who died from carbon monoxide poisoning while running a generator after his power went out.

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FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, fourth from left, visits an apartment complex damaged by severe storms the previous week at Spring Branch in Houston, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, fourth from left, visits an apartment complex damaged by severe storms the previous week at Spring Branch in Houston, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, center, visits an apartment complex damaged by severe storms with Houston Mayor John Whitmire, right, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Spring Branch in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, center, visits an apartment complex damaged by severe storms with Houston Mayor John Whitmire, right, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Spring Branch in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell talks to parents while visiting damaged Sinclair Elementary School, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Timbergrove in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell talks to parents while visiting damaged Sinclair Elementary School, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Timbergrove in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, center, visits an apartment complex damaged by severe storms at Spring Branch in Houston, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, center, visits an apartment complex damaged by severe storms at Spring Branch in Houston, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell joins Houston elected officials in a press conference regarding recovery and assistance after last week's storms, Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at Fondé Community Center in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell joins Houston elected officials in a press conference regarding recovery and assistance after last week's storms, Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at Fondé Community Center in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee uses a portable fan provided by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's staff while visiting damaged Sinclair Elementary School, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Timbergrove in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee uses a portable fan provided by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's staff while visiting damaged Sinclair Elementary School, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Timbergrove in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

From front left, Francisco Sánchez Jr., associate administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Recovery & Resilience, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo visit Sinclair Elementary School after it was damaged by severe storms from the previous week, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Timbergrove in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

From front left, Francisco Sánchez Jr., associate administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Recovery & Resilience, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo visit Sinclair Elementary School after it was damaged by severe storms from the previous week, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Timbergrove in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Utility trucks line Grovewood Lane to assist recovery from last week's severe storms, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Timbergrove in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Utility trucks line Grovewood Lane to assist recovery from last week's severe storms, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Timbergrove in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

People affected by recent severe storms wait in line for assistance at a FEMA mobile unit Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Spring Branch Family Development Center in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

People affected by recent severe storms wait in line for assistance at a FEMA mobile unit Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Spring Branch Family Development Center in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, blue FEMA hat, visits an apartment complex damaged by severe storms with Houston Mayor John Whitmire, to her right, and Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, to her left, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Spring Branch in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, blue FEMA hat, visits an apartment complex damaged by severe storms with Houston Mayor John Whitmire, to her right, and Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, to her left, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at Spring Branch in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Lisa Reed, a teacher, sits outside her home in the Harris County neighborhood of Cloverleaf near Houston on Sunday, May 19, 2024. Reed said she sat outside because it was too hot to be inside since her home was still without electricity because of last week's storms in the Houston area. The powerful storms knocked down a tree in Reed's front yard, smashing it through the windshield of a family truck. (AP Photo/ Juan A. Lozano)

Lisa Reed, a teacher, sits outside her home in the Harris County neighborhood of Cloverleaf near Houston on Sunday, May 19, 2024. Reed said she sat outside because it was too hot to be inside since her home was still without electricity because of last week's storms in the Houston area. The powerful storms knocked down a tree in Reed's front yard, smashing it through the windshield of a family truck. (AP Photo/ Juan A. Lozano)

FILE - Glass falls from above as workers clean out shattered glass at the Wells Fargo building as clean up from the previous week's storm continues in downtown Houston, Monday, May 20, 2024. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, file)

FILE - Glass falls from above as workers clean out shattered glass at the Wells Fargo building as clean up from the previous week's storm continues in downtown Houston, Monday, May 20, 2024. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, file)

FILE - Workers clean out shattered glass at the Wells Fargo building as clean up from the previous week's storm continues in downtown Houston, Monday, May 20, 2024. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, file)

FILE - Workers clean out shattered glass at the Wells Fargo building as clean up from the previous week's storm continues in downtown Houston, Monday, May 20, 2024. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, file)

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