WASHINGTON — The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Tuesday arguing that Idaho’s near-total abortion ban violates federal law — the Biden administration’s first legal action to protect access to abortion since the Supreme Court ruled against v. Wade decision of 1973 overturned in late June.
Making the announcement at DOJ headquarters, Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters that Idaho’s ban violates a federal law that requires medical providers to provide emergency medical care.
Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), every hospital in the US that receives Medicare funds must “provide necessary stabilizing treatment to patients who arrive at their emergency rooms while experiencing a medical emergency,” the 17-page statement reads. complaint. In some cases, the necessary medical treatment is an abortion.
“This could be the case, for example, when a woman undergoes a miscarriage that threatens a septic infection or bleeding, or suffers from severe preeclampsia,” Garland said.
The Idaho law, which goes into effect on Aug. 25, “will make it a felony to perform an abortion in all but extremely narrow circumstances,” the indictment said, including when doctors provide emergency medical care required by the federal law.
The lawsuit calls for a decree stating that Idaho law violates the Constitution’s supremacy clause and violates federal law. It also requests a ruling that Idaho may not prosecute or attempt to revoke the professional license of a medical provider performing an abortion permitted under federal law. The department also called for a temporary and permanent injunction against the state of Idaho to prohibit enforcement of the abortion ban when it violates federal law.
“In the days since the Dobbs decision, there have been widespread reports of delays and refusals of treatment for pregnant women experiencing medical emergencies,” Garland said. “Today, the message from the Department of Justice is clear – it doesn’t matter what state a hospital subject to EMTALA operates in. If a patient enters the emergency room with a medical emergency, putting the patient’s life or health in is in danger, the hospital must provide the treatment needed to stabilize that patient. This includes abortion, and that is the necessary treatment.”
In a pronunciation On Tuesday, Republican Governor Brad Little said he would work with the Idaho Attorney General to defend state law “in the face of federal interference.”
“Our country’s highest court has sent the issue of abortion back to the states to regulate — end of story,” Little said. “The U.S. Justice Department’s meddling with Idaho’s pro-life law is another example of Biden going too far again as he continues to ignore things that really should get his attention, such as the crushing of inflation. and the open border with Mexico.”
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the Department of Justice’s reproductive rights task force, said Tuesday while announcing that Idaho’s law charges doctors to prove at trial, after arrest and indictment, that they are not criminally charged. be liable.
“Doctors can only do this by proving that the abortion they performed was necessary for one of two reasons: to prevent the death of a pregnant woman, or in response to a previously reported case of rape or incest.” to the police or in the case of a minor to child protection. Doctors who cannot handle this burden risk two to five years in prison and revocation of their medical license,” Gupta said.
The legal action comes just weeks after Garland said the department would advise federal agencies on their authorities when it comes to protecting access to abortions, pursuing lawsuits and pursuing lawsuits on the part of private parties with amicus briefs. and declarations of interests.
“The Justice Department is going to use every tool we have to ensure reproductive freedom,” he told reporters. He also said his office would file a motion to dismiss a Texas lawsuit challenging the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services and requiring emergency medical providers to offer abortions.
The federal law on which the guidelines are based “requires hospitals to provide stabilizing care to a patient who comes in with a medical emergency that seriously endangers their life or their health,” Garland said. “And where that stabilizing treatment is abortion, they have to give the abortion. They have to do this despite a state law so narrow that it doesn’t even protect a woman’s life or health.”
On Friday, Garland, Gupta and other DOJ officials convened a meeting of private law firms, law professors, bar associations and public interest groups at the White House to discuss legal representation for patients, health care providers and third parties who lawfully seek or provide reproductive health care. through the land.
The department is “working relentlessly to protect access to reproductive services” in recognition of “the crisis that it is,” Garland said.
“It will take all of us – government attorneys, private defense attorneys, bar associations, public interest organizations – to do everything we can to protect access to reproductive health care and to provide strong legal representation for patients, healthcare providers and third parties. parties in need,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kansas voters will vote Tuesday on a constitutional amendment that will determine the future of abortion rights in their state — the first time voters anywhere in the US have voted on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
Zoe Richards contributed.