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Justice Dept. sues Idaho over near-total abortion ban coming Aug. 25

Aug. 2, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 2, 2022 at 11:04 p.m.

Garland  (Yuri Gripas)
Garland (Yuri Gripas)

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to halt Idaho’s “trigger” ban outlawing abortions beginning Aug. 25.

It’s the first lawsuit regarding state abortion bans in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that allows states to make their own abortion laws. In the suit against Idaho, the Justice Department argues that the state’s near total ban on abortions would run afoul of federal laws requiring hospitals accepting Medicare reimbursement dollars to provide medical care when a patient’s health or life is at stake.

In the lawsuit, the DOJ claims this requirement extends to a woman seeking medical care who could require an abortion to stabilize her condition. Under the Idaho law, some of the medical procedures involving emergency abortion would be banned and subject women and medical providers to possible criminal prosecution.

The DOJ says that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, preempts Idaho’s law.

Idaho’s law would make complying with the federal law a criminal offense for doctors to provide such a treatment, “even where a doctor determines that abortion is the medical treatment necessary to prevent a patient from suffering, severe health risks or even death, the filing said.

The filing seeks to invalidate the state law banning abortion under the Constitution’s supremacy clause.

Republicans in Idaho criticized the lawsuit.

Gov. Brad Little said he would continue to work “to uphold state sovereignty and defend Idaho’s laws in the face of federal meddling.”

“The U.S. Justice Department’s interference with Idaho’s pro-life law is another example of Biden overreaching yet again while he continues to ignore issues that really should demand his attention – like crushing inflation and the open border with Mexico,” Little said in a statement.

Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon called the lawsuit “the latest in a long line of examples of the federal government assailing Idaho’s cherished values.” She said the federal government is attempting to impose its policy preferences on the people of Idaho.

“The Biden Administration believes that emergency rooms should become abortion clinics,” Moon said in a statement. “The people of Idaho disagree.”

The Idaho Democratic Party tweeted Tuesday thanking Attorney General Merrick Garland for fighting Idaho’s “extreme abortion ban that endangers the lives of pregnant people.”

“Idahoans deserve to be able to make their own decisions about their health,” the party tweeted.

They criticized Little for rather letting “a pregnancy kill a woman than allow her to receive emergency abortion care.”

“His extreme views endanger the lives of Idahoans,” they tweeted.

Democrats in Washington and abortion advocates praised the lawsuit.

“We’re thrilled to see the Department of Justice move forward with this lawsuit to protect patients and providers,” said Paul Dillon, spokesman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. “We’ve already seen the impacts of abortion bans across the country and this is very welcome relief, and we hope to see more actions from the executive branch to protect abortion access.”

Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho has seen patients coming from Idaho on a daily basis since Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, Dillon said. The passage of these kinds of laws is enough to create fear and confusion even before they take effect, he added.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement she was glad to see the Biden administration and the Department of Justice challenge Idaho’s law. She said the ban in Idaho will force patients to cross state lines into Washington for abortion care, even in an emergency.

“We’re talking about women facing urgent situations, forced to delay treatment and find a way to travel – with their health on the line,” Murray said. “That’s not just cruel – it also flies in the face of federal laws on emergency medical care.”

Garland reaffirmed the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting and advancing reproductive freedom in a news conference on Tuesday.

“That is what we are doing and that is what we will continue to do,” Garland said. “We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure pregnant women get the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law, and we will closely scrutinize state abortion laws to ensure they comply with federal law.”

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