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News >  Idaho

Federal judge blocks part of Idaho abortion ban in Department of Justice lawsuit

Aug. 24, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 24, 2022 at 8:44 p.m.

District Judge B. Lynn Winmill will issue a written decision by Wednesday to either grant or deny a pause in the implementation of Idaho’s law banning nearly all abortions before the law is scheduled to take effect on Thursday.  (Otto Kitsinger/For the Idaho Capital Sun)
District Judge B. Lynn Winmill will issue a written decision by Wednesday to either grant or deny a pause in the implementation of Idaho’s law banning nearly all abortions before the law is scheduled to take effect on Thursday. (Otto Kitsinger/For the Idaho Capital Sun)
By Ryan Suppe Idaho Statesman

A federal judge on Wednesday granted the U.S. Department of Justice’s request to block Idaho from enforcing its abortion ban in emergency situations.

The Justice Department this month petitioned Idaho’s district court to enjoin the state’s near-total ban on abortion, saying it conflicts with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. The Idaho law makes it a felony for physicians to provide an abortion, unless the pregnancy puts the pregnant person’s life at risk or was a result of incest or rape.

But under the federal emergency treatment law, “emergency medical conditions” include not just life-threatening conditions, but also conditions that seriously jeopardize a patient’s health. The injunction applies to Medicare-funded hospitals.

A physician “may conclude that the only way to prevent serious harm to the patient or save her life is to terminate the pregnancy,” wrote U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, in a court order published Wednesday.

“So the job is difficult enough as it is,” he wrote. But once Idaho’s trigger law goes into effect, “the physician may well find herself facing the impossible task of attempting to simultaneously comply with both federal and state law.”

Per Winmill’s order, the state may not prosecute a medical provider for conducting an abortion that is necessary to avoid:

• Placing the health of a pregnant patient in serious jeopardy;

• A serious impairment to bodily functions of the pregnant patient; or

• A serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.

The preliminary injunction comes the day before Idaho’s near-total ban on abortion takes affect. On Thursday, most abortions will be illegal in Idaho, including procedures offered by non-emergency medical providers, such as health care clinics.

In a similar case playing out in Texas, a federal judge on Tuesday ruled that the treatment act “is silent as to abortion,” and therefore, does not conflict with a Texas law prohibiting the procedure, the Dallas Morning News reported.

On Wednesday, Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Church filed a motion referencing the Texas decision. State attorneys haven’t had an opportunity to consider how the Texas ruling “should be persuasive in aspects of this current lawsuit, or in the pending preliminary injunction motion,” Church wrote.

Meanwhile, the federal court for Idaho will continue to consider whether the state’s abortion ban meets constitutional muster. Winmill’s order enjoining enforcement against emergency medical providers will stand until a judgment is made.

“Allowing the criminal abortion ban to take effect, without a cutout for EMTALA-required care, would inject tremendous uncertainty into precisely what care is required (and permitted) for pregnant patients who present in Medicare-funded emergency rooms with emergency medical conditions,” Winmill wrote.

The Idaho Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the ruling, saying the case is still ongoing.

Idaho Capital Sun reporter Kelcie Moseley-Morris contributed to this report.

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