The federal government’s challenge represents one of its most aggressive moves to preserve abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June. The lawsuit follows weeks of complaints from Democratic advocates and elected officials that the administration has not done enough to push back the collapsed abortion access in nearly a dozen states.
This particular case — one of many unfolding across the country — concerns whether states enacting near-total bans on abortion anticipate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, known as the name of EMTALA. This decades-old federal law requires healthcare workers to provide treatment that stabilizes a patient in a medical emergency, and the Biden administration issued guidelines in July warning doctors and hospitals that EMTALA is applies even if the required treatment is an abortion — whatever state law dictates.
The case is being watched closely, with attorneys general from more than half of US states submitting amicus curiae briefs — red states side with Idaho and blue states side with the Biden administration.
Wednesday’s decision, however, still allows Idaho to ban nearly all abortions except in cases of rape, incest or threats to the mother’s life. It only prevents prosecutors from charging doctors with crimes if they perform an abortion for a patient in a medical emergency and are unable to prove that the operation was necessary to save the patient’s life.
The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has become more conservative in recent years and may not be inclined to uphold the ruling.
By contrast, Idaho’s ruling also comes the day after a Texas federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump blocked Biden administration guidelines on abortion in medical emergencies. within the state, siding with state officials who argued that it constituted an illegal “abortion mandate” and failed to give sufficient weight to the needs of “unborn children” .
The DOJ is expected to appeal that decision to the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and both cases could eventually end up in the Supreme Court.
But Idaho’s decision could force some states to consider new abortion restrictions during special summer sessions and when legislatures return early next year to expand their medical emergency exemptions in order to Avoid a lawsuit — by adhering to federal guidelines that protect doctors performing abortions when patients’ health, not just their lives, are at risk.
“Some will go ahead with sweeping abortion bans no matter what the court says and hope the Supreme Court will eventually back them,” said Jeff Dubner, an attorney with advocacy group Democracy Forward who represents groups. national and state medical officers in the case. “But if the courts make it clear that EMTALA is the law of the land and preclude laws like this, states should respect that.”
The case is also another sign that medical workers caring for pregnant patients are becoming increasingly vocal and influential as states grapple with how far to roll back abortion rights. During a Monday hearing, Judge Winmill and Justice Department attorneys repeatedly referenced testimony submitted by Idaho OB-GYNs warning that the new law would scare doctors from performing abortions in medical emergencies, worsening the state’s maternal mortality rate.
“Doctors are risk averse. It’s in the very nature of their profession,” Winmill said, adding that he fears what will happen in cases where there is a threat of “serious medical injury if abortion is not performed” – including including organ failure, sepsis, stroke or infertility – but not clearly life threatening.
“We know this is more than just a hypothetical concern,” he said, pointing to the doctors’ written testimony.
Brian Netter, a lawyer for the Biden administration, weighed in on that reasoning during closing arguments, warning that unless the law is blocked, doctors may be reluctant to treat people urgently due to the threat of lawsuits. , and that even short delays in care can lead to serious impairments.
“The fear and unease of suppliers is real and widespread,” he said. “Lives, livelihoods and health are surely at stake. The need for judicial intervention is dire.
Monte Stewart, the attorney representing Idaho lawmakers, pushed back on that, telling the court on Monday that he would advise concerned doctors to “go ahead and use your best medical judgment and you don’t have to. not to fear prosecution,” adding that he gives this advice “without the slightest heartburn and without questioning myself”.
The judge was skeptical.
“It’s not very comforting to a doctor whether or not there’s a prosecutor who can enforce it,” Winmill said. The legislator would not have passed the law if he had not wanted it to be applied.