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Opinion on important abortion case appeared briefly on the Supreme Court’s website


We turn to the Supreme Court. We'll be watching again this morning for a number of major decisions that the high court has yet to issue this term. Yesterday, though, an opinion on a closely watched abortion case briefly appeared on the High Court's website, then disappeared. Reporters at Bloomberg Law read that opinion before it was removed. They reported that the document, which could have been a draft or final - it's not clear - ruled in favor of abortions for medical emergencies in Idaho. The state has one of the country's strictest abortion bans. Kimberly Robinson is a Supreme Court reporter with Bloomberg Law, and she's on the line now. Good morning.

KIMBERLY ROBINSON, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So Kimberly, how did you happen to come across this opinion, and then get through it, before it was removed?

ROBINSON: Well, we knew that opinions were going to be coming yesterday. The Supreme Court gave us a little advance notice.

FADEL: Yeah.

ROBINSON: But even though it's the end of the year, there are still a lot of really big, consequential cases that are pending at the court, and so in addition to me going to the court to get a physical copy of the opinion, I had a number of colleagues at Bloomberg Law who were watching the court's website - and as the court was handing down its two opinions yesterday, this one showed up briefly on the website, and we saw it, and we published what we saw.

FADEL: And what was this case meant to decide?

ROBINSON: Well, this is really a challenge to Idaho's abortion ban, which you mentioned is one of the strictest in the country. You know, many of these bans have exceptions for the life and the health of the mother, but Idaho's law only allows an abortion whenever it's necessary to save the life of the mother, and so the Biden administration says that that runs afoul of a federal law that requires hospitals to give emergency stabilizing care. They say there are some situations where the mother's life might not be at risk, but an abortion is still necessary to prevent severe pain or even infertility, so, you know, it's a very narrow situation, but a very important one for those who are involved in it - and the question for the justices is whether or not these two laws actually clash, and, if so, which one must give way to the other.

FADEL: And what did the opinion that you saw say?

ROBINSON: Well, I think it's really important for listeners to know that the Supreme Court took the unusual step of getting involved before the lower courts had finished their work, and so, you know, it's a really preliminary stage to what the justices are used to getting involved in cases. And in what seems like it's a concurrence by Amy Coney Barrett, she noted that the parties' litigation strategies had really shifted, and it seems like now, a majority of the justices think that it was a mistake to get involved so early, and that it's really best left to the lower courts to sort of decide what's left of the case. And, you know, I think it's notable that that means that this issue could really bubble back up to the Supreme Court sometime soon.

FADEL: And what would it mean for abortion care in Idaho right now?

ROBINSON: Right now, it means that doctors who want to give the procedure to an individual who could suffer, you know, significant risks to her health - that they can do that without fear of being arrested, but again, this is a really temporary measure, so we'll have to see what the lower court actually decides.

FADEL: And does this opinion, if it's final, indicate any type of shift in the court, when you look at other decisions it's made - Dobbs decisions, the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade - compared to this opinion in this Idaho case?

ROBINSON: Yeah, you know, it's really hard to know, because so much of what the Supreme Court does is shrouded in secrecy, but there was an earlier case this year - another abortion case, to access to the abortion pill - where the justices similarly ruled for abortion and reproductive rights, and so it could signal a shift, but again, both cases are likely to come before the justices, so we may have a definitive answer soon.

FADEL: Kimberly Robinson is a Supreme Court reporter with Bloomberg Law. Thank you for your time.

ROBINSON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.