Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


State-level protections in place to ensure emergency access to abortions in Washington

SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson offers the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to send the challenge to Idaho’s near-total abortion ban back to lower courts, temporarily allowing emergency abortions to resume:

“Idaho’s draconian law is back on hold for now, but the challenges to people’s ability to get emergency health care involving an abortion are very real, and very serious,” Ferguson said. “Washington continues to protect access to life-saving and health-preserving care, including abortions. We know that anti-choice extremists will not stop attacking reproductive health care, even when it costs women’s lives. We will fight even harder to protect it.”

The decision sends the case back to the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, and restores that court’s order allowing emergency abortions while the case continues. The ultimate decision in the Idaho case will not affect emergency care in Washington. Washington state law requires hospitals to provide necessary emergency health care to all patients, including emergency abortion care. Gov. Jay Inslee issued a policy directive June 11 requiring the Department of Health to issue guidance clarifying hospitals’ legal obligations and affirming that state law remains unchanged regardless of the ruling in this case.

Ferguson and a coalition of 21 attorneys general filed a friend of the court brief supporting the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit challenging Idaho’s restrictive abortion law.

The lawsuit asserts that because Idaho’s law does not have adequate exemptions for emergency, lifesaving care to protect the health of pregnant people, it violates the federal Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA). EMTALA requires hospitals to provide emergency care to all patients. Patients cannot be turned away or denied care until they are stabilized. In some cases, such lifesaving care may include abortion care — for example, when a patient is experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, a miscarriage or other pregnancy complications.

Ferguson argues that Washington’s health care system would be further strained by an influx of patients traveling to Washington for health care that is prohibited in Idaho. Ferguson also argues Idaho’s restrictive law denies Washingtonians federally required emergency care if they are in Idaho as students, workers or visitors.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a lower court order and allowed the ban to go into effect while the court considered the case. Since that time, the impacts have been stark.

Emergency flights out of state for urgently needed abortions have risen sharply. Since the ban took effect, 22 percent of Idaho’s practicing obstetricians have left the state — and 22 of Idaho’s 44 counties no longer have a practicing obstetrician. Health care providers cite their inability to treat patients in accordance with medical standards of care, and their fears of criminal liability and professional consequences.

Dr. Jim Souza, chief physician at Idaho’s largest hospital system, described the questions emergency room doctors are forced to ask: "Is she sick enough? Is she bleeding enough? Is she septic enough for me to do this abortion and not risk going to jail and losing my license?"

Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, an Idaho family physician, wrote: “As a result, pregnant patients sometimes make repeated trips to the ER because they’re told time and time again that nothing can be done for them until their complications get more severe. Imagine if someone you love had a 104-degree fever but you were told nothing could be done until it spiked to 106 and your organs were failing. Requiring patients to get right up to the point of no return before administering care is not sound medical policy — it’s naked cruelty, and it’s only going to get worse as long as we allow extremism, not science, to run rampant in our statehouses and trample over our safe system of care.”

A recent University of Washington study found that abortions provided to individuals who come to Washington from other states increased by 50% since the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The study also found that both Washington and out-of-state patients obtained their abortions later in pregnancy, approximately a week later on average.

“While one week delay does not sound significant, any delays in receiving abortion care are problematic because it adversely affects the health of the pregnant person,” senior author Dr. Emily Godfrey said. Medication abortion is only FDA-approved through the first ten weeks of pregnancy, and most people do not know they are pregnant until six or seven weeks at the earliest.

Ferguson’s 2022 amicus brief stated: “In Eastern Washington, clinics have already reported a massive influx of patients from Idaho: one clinic reported that 78% of its patients in July 2022 were from Idaho (almost double the rate from the prior year), and another clinic reported that it was already fully booked multiple weeks out due to increased demand.”

Ferguson has produced a “know your rights” brochure and a specific form for Washingtonians to file complaints about violations to their reproductive rights. The brochure, available on the Attorney General’s website, is a guide to Washington state law’s protections for abortion and contraception access.

Anyone with complaints or concerns about violations of reproductive rights under state law is encouraged to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

More information on abortion access in Washington is available from the Department of Health.


Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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