Judge blocks enforcement of Idaho abortion ban for medical emergencies day before it goes into effect

“This Court is not grappling with” the broader issues surrounding abortion rights, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote in issuing a preliminary injunction. “Instead, the Court is called upon to deal with a much more modest question — whether Idaho’s criminal abortion law conflicts with a small but important corner of federal law. It does. “

The Biden administration had challenged parts of Idaho’s abortion ban, which was set to go into effect Thursday, under a law known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act or EMTALA, which establishes emergency care requirements for some health care providers. Winmill said Wednesday that the Justice Department is likely to succeed in its argument that Idaho’s abortion ban criminalizes abortion care that doctors are obligated to provide in medical emergencies under of the EMTALA.

“In short, given the extraordinarily broad scope of Idaho Code § 18-622, neither the state nor the legislature has persuaded the Court that it is possible for healthcare workers to simultaneously comply with their obligations under EMTALA and Idaho statutory law,” the judge said. wrote. “State law must therefore give way to federal law to the extent of this conflict.”

The Idaho attorney general’s office declined to comment Wednesday when asked by CNN if it plans to appeal the order.

The exception offered by Idaho’s abortion ban for emergency medical situations is among the most limited in the country. It applies only when the provider believes the abortion was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant person, stopping before allowing abortions for other serious health risks contemplated by EMTALA. And the law does not exempt providers who provide this emergency care from being charged with a crime; rather, it allows them to raise that rationale as an affirmative defense at trial.

“When an abortion is the necessary stabilizing treatment, EMTALA directs physicians to provide such care if they reasonably expect the patient’s condition to cause serious impairment of bodily functions, serious dysfunction of any organ or part of the body, or a serious danger to the health of the patient,” the judge wrote. “In contrast, the Criminal Abortion Act does not admit such an exception. It only justifies abortions that the attending physician deems necessary to prevent the death of the patient.”

The order is a victory for the Biden administration, as it had few tools to respond to the Supreme Court’s June reversal of Roe’s federal abortion rights protections against Wade.

“Today’s decision by the District Court for the District of Idaho ensures that women in the State of Idaho can get the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law. This includes abortion when it comes to necessary treatment,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. said in a statement Wednesday.

In a dueling case that arose in Texas, a federal judge overturned the administration’s interpretation of EMTALA as requiring medical emergency abortion care. In that case, the judge issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday night against the administration preventing it from applying EMTALA in this way in Texas and against an organization of physicians who joined Texas in challenging the policy of the administration.

This story was updated with additional details on Wednesday.


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