DOJ sues Idaho over its trigger abortion restriction bill

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Tuesday the lawsuit filed against Idaho over an abortion bill. (Photo courtesy of DOJ)

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

In a press conference Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho regarding anti-abortion legislation.

“The suit seeks to hold invalid the state’s criminal prohibition on providing abortions as applied to women who are suffering medical emergencies under our federal law, known as Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA,” said Garland. “Every hospital that receives Medicare funds must provide necessary, stabilizing treatment to a patient who arrives at an emergency room suffering from a condition that could place their life or health in serious jeopardy.”

Garland said in some circumstances that care may be an abortion. He offered the example of a miscarriage that threatens septic infection or hemorrhage or severe preeclampsia.

He said a hospital is required by federal law to provide that care to a patient. He said the new Idaho law is in conflict with federal law.

A copy of the complaint states “Physicians will be faced with an untenable choice—either to withhold critical stabilizing treatment required under EMTALA or to risk criminal prosecution and potential loss of their professional licenses.”

In Idaho, none of the abortion restriction laws are in effect yet. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office has not yet filed a response to the DOJ’s lawsuit but issued a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s unfortunate that, instead of sitting down with the State of Idaho to discuss the interplay between its abortion laws and EMTALA, the U.S. Department of Justice has chosen to file a politically motivated lawsuit,” Wasden said. “Since the Dobbs decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in June, the Department has had nearly six weeks to discuss with Idaho its abortion laws and their reconciliation with EMTALA.

“Contrary to the carefully edited assertion in paragraph 25 of the Department’s complaint that Idaho’s laws are preempted, EMTALA actually states: “The provisions of this section do not preempt any State or local law requirement, except to the extent that the requirement directly conflicts with a requirement of this section,” Wasden said in the statement.

“Instead of complying with the requirements of this provision and reconciling Idaho’s law with EMTALA, or even attempting to engage Idaho in a meaningful dialogue on the issue, the federal government has chosen to waste taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary lawsuit,” Wasden said.

Gov. Brad Little issued a statement on Tuesday in response to the DOJ’s lawsuit.

“Our nation’s highest court returned the issue of abortion to the states to regulate – end of story. The U.S. Justice Department’s interference with Idaho’s pro-life law is another example of Biden overreaching yet again while he continues to ignore issues that really should demand his attention – like crushing inflation and the open border with Mexico,” Little said in the statement. “Here in Idaho, we are proud that we have led the country in protecting preborn lives. I will continue to work with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to vigorously uphold state sovereignty and defend Idaho’s laws in the face of federal meddling.”

Idaho Governor Brad Little joined Idaho Reports on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022 to discuss a wide range of issues currently facing the state. Melissa Davlin asked him about Idaho’s abortion trigger law that will soon criminalize almost all abortion in the state, which is working its way through the courts.

On Wednesday, the Idaho Supreme Court is set to hear arguments regarding anti-abortion legislation in lawsuits filed by Planned Parenthood. Follow Idaho Reports for further updates.

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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