Idaho AG Suggests Hospitals Are Airlifting Pregnant Patients Out of State as a Political Ploy

Raúl Labrador is very desperate to blame the consequences of abortion bans on anyone other than Republican politicians.

Idaho AG Suggests Hospitals Are Airlifting Pregnant Patients Out of State as a Political Ploy

Last week, during Supreme Court arguments on emergency abortions, the liberal justices noted how women with pregnancy complications are being airlifted out of Idaho because the state’s abortion ban only makes exceptions to prevent death. It doesn’t matter if a pregnant woman’s water breaks too early, or if she’s hemorrhaging, or suffering from one of the dozens of pregnancy complications that could threaten her health, wellbeing, and future fertility—if they’re not moments from death, then the doctor providing the abortion could face criminal chargers. 

Idaho is arguing that this is all fine and good. Specifically, the state maintains that their ban complies with EMTALA (the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act), a federal law that says hospitals that receive Medicaid have to provide emergency, stabilizing care to any patient, regardless of state laws. This includes pregnant patients and specifically includes abortion.

Since SCOTUS let Idaho enforce its ban in early January, six pregnant patients at St. Luke’s, the state’s largest health system, have been airlifted out of Idaho—that’s compared to just one medivac patient in all of 2023. St. Luke’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Souza told the Idaho Capital Sun that, if this pace stays the same, they will airlift more than 20 patients in 2024.

But, according to Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador (R), this is all fake news. Not only did Labrador use the most cruel language to say he believes Idaho’s ban complies with EMTALA, but he also implied that hospitals are lying about having to put women on helicopters to ensure they get the emergency care they need.

In a press conference after the arguments, Labrador suggested that St. Luke’s was airlifting patients “just to make a political statement.” (During said press conference, he was flanked by lawyers for Alliance Defending Freedom, the right-wing Christian law firm that helped Mississippi get the Dobbs case to the Supreme Court and is helping to represent the state in this suit “for free.”)

“They’re going to the press, and they’re making all these statements that are clearly misinformation, in my opinion,” Labrador said. “It’s really hard for me to conceive of an instance where a woman has to be airlifted out of Idaho to perform an abortion. In fact, I have talked to doctors in the ER—the same ER rooms that they’re talking about—and they are telling me they have no idea what this [hospital] administrator is talking about.” He continued: “I would hate to think that St. Luke’s, or any other hospital, is trying to do something like this just to make a political statement, which I think is actually dangerous to the health and life of women in Idaho.”

Even if you believe that Labrador has talked to ER doctors, it’s possible that whoever he spoke to wasn’t working when any of these six patients needed to be transferred. But it’s ridiculous to assert that hospitals would spend money on medical helicopter trips because they hoped it would sway Supreme Court justices to rule in favor of the federal government. The plaintiff in this case is the United States, not an Idaho hospital, and meanwhile, the entire U.S. medical system is built on spending as little money on patients as possible in order to keep profits up.

St. Luke’s spokesperson Christine Myron told the Idaho Statesman that it stands by Souza’s comments. “We do not have any way of knowing who Attorney General Labrador spoke to related to out-of-state patient transfers for pregnancy complications, but what we can share with confidence is our data,” Myron said. “During the time that Idaho has not had EMTALA protections for pregnancy complications, six pregnant patients in St. Luke’s care required out-of-state air transport from the emergency department to protect their health and prevent material deterioration and/or loss of organ function, not to prevent death.”

Doctors are putting people in helicopters because they’re afraid of being arrested if prosecutors don’t agree with their medical judgment to provide abortions. As the NPR affiliate in Boise noted, physicians “face felony charges, up to five years in prison and loss of their medical license for providing abortions that do not fall under the laws’ exceptions.” The threat of criminalization has led to an exodus of OB/GYNs from the state. According to one amicus brief in the case, Idaho has lost more than one in five of its obstetricians since the law first took effect 15 months ago (58 of 268 OBs, or 21.6 percent). Even more distressing: “Five of the state’s nine maternal-fetal medicine experts—obstetricians with additional training specific to high-risk pregnancies—have either retired or left the state.”

This isn’t misinformation and it’s not a political scheme. These are the consequences of abortion bans, and the best response that Republicans like Labrador can muster is saying it’s all fake.

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