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WA attorney general enters fray in Idaho abortion lawsuit

Aug. 16, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 16, 2022 at 8:52 p.m.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks Aug. 26, 2019, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks Aug. 26, 2019, in Seattle. (Associated Press)
By Nina Shapiro Seattle Times

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson entered the fray Tuesday over a looming abortion ban in Idaho, joining a coalition of 21 of his peers nationwide to file a friend of the court brief charging the ban violates federal law.

The brief supports a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit challenging the ban on the grounds it doesn’t have adequate exemptions that would allow abortions for people who need lifesaving care, violating the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

The attorneys general brief also makes the case that the ban sends abortion patients into other states.

“What happens in Idaho directly impacts Washington,” Ferguson said in a statement.

“Emergency rooms in Oregon and Washington will inevitably need to absorb the out-of-state patient need for care that Idaho’s law will cause, at a time when the states continue to wrestle with an ongoing global pandemic and new public health crises.”

Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Pullman, near the border with Idaho, is already reporting 78% of its July patients came from Idaho, and the organization’s Kennewick clinic is booked out for weeks, according to Ferguson’s office.

He and other attorneys general, like the Department of Justice, are asking for a preliminary injunction.

The Idaho Supreme Court on Friday turned down a preliminary injunction request after a hearing on three lawsuits filed by Planned Parenthood and an Idaho doctor that took aim at the ban and other laws restricting abortion.

If a federal court turns down the injunction request in the Department of Justice case, the ban is due to go into effect Aug. 25.

The law makes it a felony to provide an abortion in Idaho. It allows providers to defend themselves in court if a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest reported to law enforcement – or if an abortion was necessary to prevent the death of a pregnant patient.

But the Department of Justice and attorneys general argue the law could cause harmful delays in treating patients as doctors assess whether an abortion would meet the law’s dictates.

That could endanger people from Washington and other states who are visiting, working or going to school in Idaho, according to the attorneys general brief.

Complicating the situation, a different Idaho law making it a felony to provide an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks into a pregnancy, is due to go into effect this week. Providers of such abortions can also be hit with civil lawsuits, as of Friday’s state Supreme Court ruling, which lifted a stay on that provision.

In addition to his involvement in the Idaho case, Ferguson joined a group of attorneys general filing a friend of the court brief in Texas opposing a preliminary injunction request from that state and anti-abortion groups challenging federal guidance that abortions might be deemed legally necessary to stabilize a patient in an emergency.

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