By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided Thursday with the Idaho Legislature in a case brought against the state’s abortion laws by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In August of 2022, the Department of Justice sued the state over its abortion law, claiming they violated a federal law known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA. That law mandates all hospitals that receive Medicare funds must provide necessary stabilizing treatment to a patient who arrives in an emergency room.
At the time, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland argued that in some circumstances, that live-saving care may be an abortion. Idaho U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Wimill ruled that medical professionals working in emergency rooms and labor departments will not face prosecution if emergency medical care includes abortions for pregnant patients.
The Legislature appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and in the order written by Judge Lawrence VanDyke, the court agreed that EMTALA does not conflict with Idaho abortion law.
“EMTALA was enacted to prevent hospitals that receive Medicare reimbursement from refusing to provide emergency care to the indigent because of their inability to pay,” Van Dyke wrote. “As relevant to this case, it requires emergency room doctors to stabilize patients’ emergency medical conditions before transferring them.”
Because the Ninth Circuit found Idaho’s law is not preempted by EMTALA, the court granted the Legislature’s motion to stay the case pending appeal.
The court found that EMTALA has dual stabilization requirements: hospitals must ensure that “no material deterioration of the condition” of a woman or her unborn child is likely to occur.
“The federal government nonetheless argues that because hospitals are required to stabilize patients’ medical conditions, they must perform abortions because abortion could be a ‘form of stabilizing treatment,’” the order states. “But EMTALA does not require the State to allow every form of treatment that could conceivably stabilize a medical condition solely because, as the government argues, a ‘relevant professional determines such care is necessary.’”
In the state of Idaho, all abortion is illegal, with exceptions for reported rape or incest, or the life of the mother.
The Ninth Circuit Court found “if a doctor believes, in his or her good faith medical judgment, that an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother, then the exception applies. Neither the probability nor the immanency of death matters to the exception’s application.”
In a press release issued Friday, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador supported the court’s decision and blamed the current federal administration for bringing the legal challenge.
“Last year, the Supreme Court granted states the authority to establish their own abortion policies,” Labrador said. “In an effort to circumvent the Dobbs decision, the Biden administration baselessly sued the State of Idaho. I’m proud of the work my team has done, including collaborating with the legislature’s counsel, to ensure Idaho’s sensible law continues to save the lives of babies and provides medical professionals with the ability to exercise their judgment to assist women who need emergency care. We are encouraged by the Ninth Circuit panel’s decision. Our office acknowledges that this battle is not yet resolved, and we will persist in safeguarding Idaho’s sovereignty against federal overreach.”
Planned Parenthood Great Northwest Hawai‘i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky CEO Rebecca Gibron also issued a statement Friday afternoon.
“Anti-abortion politicians have already banned abortion in the state of Idaho. And now it’s being taken a step further by taking away people’s ability to access emergency care when they need it the most,” Gibron wrote. “We’re dedicated to prioritizing our patients’ health and wellbeing – even if our state won’t. Because beyond the right to have an abortion, people deserve to have their doctors make decisions with their health and wellbeing in mind every time. That shouldn’t be a radical stance.”