New Year Brings High Stakes for Abortion at the Supreme Court

The justices will hear back-to-back abortion cases for the first time ever.

Illustration of a court judge holding a stack of papers with pregnancy tests, abortion pills, and a map of Florida over the robes.
The Supreme Court will hear two abortion cases this term that could further decimate access. Cage Rivera/Rewire News Group

This piece first appeared in our weekly newsletter, The Fallout.

Welcome back to The Fallout, folks! We’re barely two weeks into 2024, and it’s already shaping up to be another historic year for reproductive rights and access. For the first time ever, there are back-to-back cases at the Supreme Court tackling some facet of abortion care.

Some time this spring, the justices will hear arguments in a case challenging the expansion of medication abortion access. We’ve covered the mifepristone fight extensively at Rewire News Group, so I won’t get into the weeds again (but check here and here for great background and a primer on what’s at stake).

Then in April, the Court will consider an Idaho case that pits state abortion bans and their medical exceptions (or lack thereof) against EMTALA, the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act that mandates hospitals—even in states where abortion is banned—must provide emergency abortion care to stabilize patients when necessary. My colleague Imani Gandy and I will discuss this case extensively on the return of the Boom! Lawyered podcast tomorrow, so be sure you’re subscribed on your favorite platform.

Individually, each case poses a dramatic threat to what little abortion access remains in the United States. Taken together, they have the potential to further entrench the unavailability of care in large swaths of this country with abortion bans on the books, and dramatically roll back access even in states that have prioritized protecting abortion rights after Dobbs.

Yes, the stakes really are that high. And I haven’t even mentioned the election yet.

As is often the case with the anti-choice attacks on bodily autonomy, both the mifepristone case and the EMTALA case are about more than whether the FDA abused its authority in expanding medication abortion access or if states are ever required to provide emergency abortion care. They are important tests of just how far the conservative justices are willing to go in rewriting the law and our democratic norms in the name of restricting bodily autonomy.

While arguments will be heard in the spring, we know by now not to expect a decision until the summer. That means we could have an entirely new abortion access landscape just in time for a presidential election where the incumbent has done little in the way of restoring access (and can’t even say the word “abortion”).

Correction: This piece was updated to include the full name of EMTALA.