Justice Department sues Idaho over abortion restrictions

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration sued Idaho on Tuesday over a tough abortion law slated to go into effect this month that the Justice Department says would prevent ER doctors from performing necessary abortions for stabilize the health of women facing medical emergencies.

The lawsuit, announced by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, is the first Biden government filed to protect abortion access since the Supreme Court’s decision in late June that ended the constitutional right to terminate pregnancies.

Since then, Mr. Garland noted at a press conference on Tuesday, “there have been numerous reports of delays and denial of treatment for pregnant women in emergency situations.” The lawsuit argues that a federal law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, prohibits states from imposing restrictions that would prevent ER doctors from treating these women.

“If a patient presents to the emergency room with a medical emergency that threatens the patient’s life or health, the hospital must provide the treatment necessary to stabilize that patient,” Garland said. “This includes abortion when it comes to necessary treatment.”

The litigation came as Kansas voters resoundingly upheld a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling interpreting the state Constitution as protecting the right to abortion. The ballot initiative is the first referendum on abortion rights since the US Supreme Court’s decision in late June.

Last month, after the federal Department of Health and Human Services issued guidelines to ensure abortion access in certain emergency situations at hospitals that receive Medicare funding, Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas filed a lawsuit challenging the rules.

The new case raises similar legal questions about the scope of federal law to protect ER doctors who decide abortions are necessary to treat dangerous pregnancy complications that do not pose a direct threat to a patient’s life. . This time, however, the federal government is the plaintiff, not the defendant.

The Justice Department is also seeking an injunction prohibiting Idaho from enforcing its strict abortion law on ER doctors, nurses and lab technicians who assist with abortions in emergency situations — including cases where women face conditions such as ectopic pregnancy, severe pre-eclampsia or pregnancy. complications threatening septic infections or bleeding.

Idaho’s near-total ban on abortion contained a trigger that would allow it to take effect soon after any U.S. Supreme Court ruling overruling its precedent Roe v. Wade on abortion rights. Because the court issued such a ruling earlier this summer, the Idaho law is expected to go into effect in about three weeks.

The law prohibits abortion except when necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life — but not to protect her health — or in cases of rape or incest that have already been reported to authorities.

It allows law enforcement officials to arrest and charge a doctor whenever an abortion has been performed, regardless of the circumstances; it is up to the doctor, as a defense at trial, to prove that one of the few exceptions to the prohibition applied. As a result, critics of the law say doctors will be afraid to perform abortions under any circumstances.

The Justice Department lawsuit seeks a declaration by a court that the Idaho law is invalid if applied to situations covered by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, because the U.S. Constitution makes supreme federal law over state law where the two conflict.

“Even in dire situations that might qualify for the limited affirmative defense ‘necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman’ under Idaho law, some providers might refuse care due to a well-founded fear of criminal prosecution. “, said the complaint of the department.

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

In a statement, Governor Brad Little of Idaho, a Republican, described the lawsuit as “federal interference” and said the Supreme Court had “returned the issue of abortion to the states for regulation – end of the story”.

“The US Department of Justice’s interference in Idaho’s pro-life law is another example of Biden once again going too far,” Mr Little said.

Appearing alongside Mr Garland, Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general and head of a Justice Department task force on reproductive rights, said her task force had studied the “rapidly changing landscape” of restrictions state laws on abortion from the Supreme Court. Court decision. She suggested further lawsuits were likely to follow.

“We know these are scary and uncertain times for pregnant women and their providers,” she said. “The Department of Justice, through the work of its task force, is committed to doing everything in its power to ensure continued and lawful access to reproductive services.”

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