US Department of Justice sues Idaho over near-total abortion ban

The DOJ said the restrictive abortion law conflicted with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

WASHINGTON, DC, USA – The US Department of Justice is suing Idaho over its restrictive abortion ban due to go into effect August 25, where they say it directly clashes with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

This was the Biden administration’s first public lawsuit since the fall of Roe v. Calf.

The DOJ also said it had warned the state of Idaho that its near-total abortion ban violated federal law, but received no response.

In the complaint filed Tuesday, the department said the only health-related exemption from performing an abortion under Idaho Code §18-622 is if the abortion prevents death of the pregnant person — and beyond preventing death, the law provides none before defense for someone’s health that is at stake.

Under Idaho’s abortion law, it would be a criminal offense for physicians to perform an abortion in any other circumstance.

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland held a news conference Tuesday detailing the lawsuit.

“On that day roe and Casey lifted, we pledged that the Justice Department will work tirelessly to protect and promote reproductive freedom,” Garland said.

Because of the “death prevention exception,” the DOJ argues that it violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). Under this law, hospitals are required to provide medical treatments necessary to stabilize the patient prior to discharge or transfer.

These factors in EMTALA include not only a risk of death, but also factors that seriously endanger a person’s health, seriously impair bodily functions, or cause serious dysfunction of a bodily organ or part.

Under EMTALA, if a hospital participating in Medicare determines that a patient has a medical emergency, the hospital must provide additional evaluations and treatment needed to stabilize the condition, or facilitate transfer to another facility that does can.

The DOJ complaint states that there are 43 hospitals that voluntarily participate in Medicare in Idaho, and 39 of those hospitals have emergency rooms that are required to comply with EMTALA.

The complaint lists some circumstances that may not pose a risk of death but other health complications: ectopic pregnancies, severe preeclampsia, or other complications that threaten septic infections and bleeding. The DOJ argues that under these circumstances, some physicians may decide that an abortion is necessary.

RELATED: More Idaho Abortion Details: What’s Next?

“Idaho law would make it a criminal offense for physicians to comply with EMTALA’s obligation to provide stabilizing care, even if a physician determines that an abortion is the medical care necessary to prevent a patient from having.” suffers serious health risks,” the complaint reads.

Abortion under newly introduced Idaho law is a felony punishable by up to two to five years in prison.

In several lawsuits Planned Parenthood has filed against the state regarding this law, Planned Parenthood has stated that the circumstances are too narrow and vague for a physician to determine what constitutes an abortion and what does not. The Justice Department’s complaint largely agrees with this view, where they say the burden of proof then shifts to the doctor rather than the state.

Some providers may also withhold care for fear of criminal prosecution, the complaint says.

RELATED: Idaho abortion: ‘trigger ban’ set to go into effect Aug. 25

“Idaho’s abortion law will therefore prevent physicians from performing abortions even if a physician determines that abortion is medically necessary treatment to avoid serious risk to the patient’s health, and even in cases where refusal of care will likely result in the death of the pregnant patient.” It says.

The complaint states that Idaho’s abortion law is invalid under the United States’ supremacy clause for this reason, as it directly conflicts with federal law.

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking a judgment finding that Idaho Code § 18-622 violates the Supremacy Clause and voiding it, a declaratory judgment finding that Idaho may not pursue criminal prosecution against those who perform abortions, and an injunction against the State of Idaho prohibiting the enforcement of this statute and any other remedy the court deems appropriate.

Idaho Democratic Party leader Lauren Necochea said in a statement supporting the lawsuit that the trigger bill gives health care providers an “impossible choice” of either denying medical care or going to jail.

“The extreme abortion ban passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed into law by Gov. Little endangers the lives of pregnant Idaho women and undermines hospitals’ duty to treat and stabilize sick patients,” Necochea said.

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