The US Department of Justice has sued the state of Idaho over its anti-abortion law that limits access to patients who need life-saving medical care, marking the first lawsuit by the Biden administration since the US Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down the constitutional right to care abortions.
The Idaho law, which takes effect this month, bans abortion care in almost all circumstances, including medical emergencies, and providers can face arrest and prosecution if they perform an abortion to save the patient’s life , with the burden on doctors to prove they are not criminally liable if they provide that care, according to US Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The Justice Department argues that Idaho’s measure violates the federal Emergency Medical Care and Labor Act that requires medical providers to offer emergency care.
“Any state law that prevents a hospital from fulfilling its obligation under [that law] violates federal law,” Mr. Garland announced during an Aug. 2 press conference.
Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta warned that the Idaho law could “repell providers’ willingness to perform abortions” to save a pregnant patient’s life.
The lawsuit comes more than a month after the Supreme Court overturned the previous half-century established in Roe v. Wadewhich affirmed a constitutional right to abortion and left decisions about legal abortion care to individual states.
Idaho is among several states that have moved to ban or severely limit access to unprotected abortions. Roe. At least 10 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin – have banned abortion entirely in almost all cases, and more legal challenges are expected as more laws take effect. As many as 26 states could ban abortion without Roe, with state legislatures poised to draft more restrictive laws in the coming weeks and months.
In the weeks following the Supreme Court decision Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization“There have been widespread reports of delays or denials to pregnant women experiencing medical emergencies,” Mr Garland said.
“We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that pregnant women receive the medical care they deserve.”
Idaho’s ‘trigger’ law, passed in 2020 and planned to go into effect once the Supreme Court is overturned Roe, makes abortion care a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The law makes exceptions if the procedure is intended to prevent the patient’s death or in cases of rape or incest.
The state was the first to pass an abortion ban that mirrors a Texas law, though the state Supreme Court temporarily blocked the law after a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood. Both Idaho’s governor and state attorney general have suggested the ban is unconstitutional, though it remains in place.
The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on August 3.
President Joe Biden’s administration has told hospitals they must provide emergency abortion care under the Emergency Medical Care and Jobs Act, as patients experiencing a life- or health-threatening pregnancy complication may show up in a room emergency.
Complications can include “ectopic pregnancy, complications of pregnancy loss, or urgent hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia with severe features,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
“If a physician believes that a pregnant patient presenting to an emergency department is experiencing a medical emergency as defined by [federal law], and that abortion is the stabilizing treatment needed to resolve this condition, the physician must provide that treatment,” according to the agency’s guidelines. “When a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the life of the pregnant woman – or makes the exception more narrowly than [federal law’s] definition of a medical emergency – that state law is preempted.”
In a statement Tuesday, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said “federal law is clear: patients have the right to stabilize care in emergency hospitals regardless of where they live.”
“Women don’t have to be close to death to receive care,” she added.
Last week, the Justice Department convened a White House meeting with legal experts and advocates to discuss legal representation in the wake of Dobbs decision.
“It will take all of us – government lawyers, private pro bono lawyers, bar associations, public interest organizations – to do everything we can to protect access to reproductive health care and provide robust legal representation to patients, providers and third parties in need. Ms. Gupta said in a statement.