BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Idaho’s restrictive abortion law, arguing that it runs afoul of a federal law that requires doctors to provide pregnant women with medically necessary treatment that could include abortion.
The federal government brought the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the state’s “criminal ban on providing abortions as applied to women suffering from medical emergencies,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
The announcement is the first major action by the Justice Department challenging a state trigger law since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The court’s ruling has led some states to enact restrictive abortion laws and is likely to lead to abortion bans in about half of US states
The Justice Department filed the suit because federal prosecutors believe the Idaho law would force doctors to violate the Emergency Medical Care and Labor Act, a federal law that requires anyone who comes to an emergency medical facility to be stabilized and undergo treatment, Garland said.
“Idaho’s law would make it a criminal offense for doctors to provide the emergency medical care that federal law requires,” Garland said.
Idaho, like many Republican-led states, has multiple anti-abortion laws on the books, creating a legal quagmire now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade.
The law targeted by the Justice Department criminalizes all abortions, making anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison.
People charged under the law could defend themselves against criminal charges by arguing that the abortion was performed to save a pregnant woman from death or that it was performed after the pregnant woman reported being a victim of rape or incest to law enforcement — and provided a copy of this report to the abortion provider.
“Under Idaho law, once enacted, any state or local prosecutor may subject a physician to prosecution, arrest, and prosecution simply by proving that an abortion has been performed, regardless of the circumstances,” the Justice Department wrote in the lawsuit. . “The law then places the burden on the doctor to prove an ‘affirmative defense’ at trial.”
Advocates for sexual assault survivors have said the rape and incest exemption is essentially useless because Idaho’s public records law does not allow law enforcement agencies to release reports while a case is still under investigation — a process that generally takes weeks or months.
Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, a family physician and a regional Planned Parenthood organization have already used the abortion ban in the Idaho Supreme Court, which is expected to hear arguments in the case on Wednesday. In the lawsuit, Gustafson argues that the medical emergency exception is vague and impossible to interpret.
“It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to apply the medical exemption and provide care to a pregnant person whose life may be in danger,” Gustafson wrote, noting that certain serious medical conditions related to pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, can cause death. although it is not guaranteed to do so.
Neither Idaho Gov. Brad Little nor Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, both Republicans, immediately responded to requests for comment about the federal lawsuit.
Balsamo reported from Washington, DC