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County Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Find that Federal Law Prevents States from Restricting Access to Medically Necessary Emergency Abortion

Reversal of the lower court’s decision would place patients in danger, undermine public health, and change longstanding federal law on patient access to emergency medical services

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – Today, the County of Santa Clara filed a brief in the United States Supreme Court that seeks to ensure that patients who arrive at the hospital suffering from a medical emergency receive the stabilizing care they need.  Patients are entitled to this care under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), including where appropriate an emergency abortion.  The brief is the most recent in a series of briefs that the County has filed in furtherance of its longstanding commitment to defending and championing reproductive rights.

In August 2022, the federal government filed suit challenging Idaho’s near-total abortion ban to the extent the ban prevents physicians from providing an emergency abortion in circumstances where termination of the pregnancy is necessary to stabilize the patient’s condition.  The district court issued an order granting the federal government’s request for an injunction and barring Idaho from enforcing its abortion ban to the extent it conflicts with the requirements of EMTALA.  On January 5, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review and stayed the lower court’s order pending completion of the Supreme Court’s review of the case.

The County’s amicus brief urges the U.S. Supreme Court to protect access to emergency medical care by upholding the lower court’s decision.  The brief describes how a decision stripping away EMTALA’s protections would harm local governments and the communities they serve.  Not only would such a decision have severe consequences for individual patient health, it would also increase the operational and financial strain on safety net providers in states without restrictive abortion laws when patients who cannot receive emergency care in their home states turn to out-of-state hospitals for help.  This, in turn, undermines public health and welfare more broadly.

“As a safety net provider, the County of Santa Clara is acutely aware of the need to uphold federal protections that ensure patients will receive emergency medical care at the time they need it,” said County of Santa Clara, County Counsel Tony LoPresti.  “The County of Santa Clara will continue to fight for reproductive health and freedom and to defend these rights in court.”

The County’s amicus brief is joined by 12 other localities around the nation that maintain public health departments, own or operate hospitals or clinics, or otherwise fund healthcare services: County of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Contra Costa County, California; City of Gary, Indiana; City and County of San Francisco, California; City of Saint Paul, Minnesota; City of Cincinnati, Ohio; County of Marin, California; County of Monterey, California; Cook County, Illinois; County of Los Angeles, California; Harris County, Texas; and City of New York, New York.

The case is Mike Moyle, Speaker of the Idaho House of Representative, et al. v. United States of America; State of Idaho v. United States of America, Case Nos. 23-726 & 23-727 (S. Ct.), Nos. 23-35440 & 23-35450 (9th Cir.), No. 1:22-cv-00329-BLW (D. Idaho). 

Amicus Brief

About the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office

The Office of the County Counsel serves as legal counsel to the County, its Board of Supervisors and elected officials, every County department and agency, and the County’s boards and commissions. With a staff of over 250, the Office is also responsible for all civil litigation involving the County and its officers.

About the Social Justice and Impact Litigation Section

The Social Justice and Impact Litigation Section within the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office litigates high-impact cases, drafts innovative local ordinances, and develops new policies and programs to advance the County’s goal of achieving social and economic justice for all its residents.  The Section also defends the County in select cases with the potential to significantly affect the County’s ability to provide critical safety net services to vulnerable residents.  The Section is part of a movement to use the power and unique perspective of local government to better serve the community and to drive long-lasting change at the local, state, and national levels.

About the County of Santa Clara, California

The County of Santa Clara government serves a diverse, multi-cultural population of 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, California, making it more populous than 14 states in the U.S. The County provides essential services to its residents, including public health protection, environmental stewardship, medical services through the County of Santa Clara Health System, child and adult protection services, homelessness prevention and solutions, roads, park services, libraries, emergency response to disasters, protection of minority communities and those under threat, access to a fair criminal justice system, and many other public benefits.

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CONTACTS: Tony LoPresti/Kavita Narayan, County of Santa Clara Office of the County Counsel, (408) 299-5902

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