The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Idaho to block the state's restrictive abortion law, saying it violated federal law requiring hospitals to provide necessary stabilizing treatment – including abortion – to people suffering from an emergency medical condition.
In announcing the lawsuit, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Idaho's law would make it a criminal offense for doctors to comply with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA. The federal law, he argued, preempts state laws in jurisdictions that now ban the procedure without any exceptions.
The Department of Health and Human Services advised providers in a letter last month that medical facilities and hospitals are required to determine whether a person seeking treatment may be in labor or whether they face an emergency health situation — or one that could develop into an emergency — and to provide treatment. If abortion is the necessary treatment to stabilize the patient, it must be done, the HHS said.
However, Idaho's trigger law, passed in 2020, makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison for anyone to perform or attempt to perform an abortion. The law, which is set to take effect on Aug. 25, says health care providers can attempt to defend themselves against criminal charges by saying that the abortion was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant person, or that the pregnant person showed them a police report alleging rape or incest. The law also requires physicians to use the medical method that provides the “best opportunity for the unborn child to survive.”
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Garland was joined by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who is leading the Justice Department’s Reproductive Rights Task Force, which is tasked with monitoring and pushing back on state and local efforts to further restrict abortion.
Gupta said Idaho's law puts the burden on doctors to defend themselves at trial, only after they've been arrested and charged.
The DOJ's lawsuit seeks an injunction barring Idaho from enforcing the part of the legislation that conflicts with federal law, and prohibiting the the state from prosecuting or revoking the license of a medical professional who performs one.
The lawsuit is the first by the Justice Department since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to an abortion, in June.
“On the day Roe and Casey were overturned, we promised that the Justice Department would work tirelessly to protect and advance reproductive freedom,” Garland said during a news conference Tuesday. “That is what we are doing, and that is what we will continue to do,” Garland added. “We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that pregnant women get the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law.”