Department of Justice sues Idaho to protect reproductive rights | takeover bid

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The Department of Justice today filed a lawsuit to protect the rights of patients to access emergency medical care guaranteed by federal law. The lawsuit challenges Idaho Code § 18-622 (§ 18-622), which takes effect Aug. 25, and imposes a near-total ban on abortion.

Lawsuit seeks declaratory judgment that § 18-622 conflicts with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) in situations where an abortion is necessary to stabilize treatment of a medical condition of emergency. The United States is also seeking an order permanently barring the Idaho law to the extent that it conflicts with EMTALA.

“The day Roe and Casey were overturned, we promised that the Justice Department would work tirelessly to protect and promote reproductive freedom,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “That is what we are doing and that is what we will continue to do. We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that pregnant women receive the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law. And we will closely examine state abortion laws to make sure they comply with federal law.”

“Federal law is clear: Patients have the right to stabilize care in a hospital emergency room no matter where they live,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Women shouldn’t have to be on the verge of death to receive care. The Department of Health and Human Services will continue to work with the Department of Justice to enforce federal law that protects access to health care, including abortions.”

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“A critical focus of the Reproductive Rights Task Force has been to assess the changing landscape of state laws and assess potential legal responses to violations of federal protections,” said Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “Today’s lawsuit against the State of Idaho over its near-total ban on abortion is the first public example of this work in action. We know these are scary and uncertain times for pregnant women and their providers, and the Department of Justice, through the work of the Task Force, is committed to doing everything possible to ensure continued legal access to reproductive services.”

EMTALA requires hospitals that receive federal funding from Medicare to provide necessary stabilizing treatment to patients who arrive at their emergency departments while experiencing a medical emergency. When a physician reasonably determines that the necessary stabilizing treatment is an abortion, state law may not prohibit the provision of that care. The statute defines necessary stabilizing treatment to include all treatment necessary to ensure that a patient’s health is not seriously compromised, bodily functions are not seriously impaired, or he or she suffers from serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.

As explained in the lawsuit, once § 18-622 takes effect in Idaho, a prosecutor can charge, arrest, and prosecute a doctor simply by showing that an abortion has been performed, regardless of the circumstances. A physician who performs an abortion in Idaho can ultimately avoid criminal liability only if it establishes as an affirmative defense that “the abortion was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman” or that, prior to performing the abortion, the patient The pregnant woman (or, in some circumstances, her parent or guardian) reported an “act of rape or incest” against the patient to a specified agency and provided a copy of the report to the physician. The law provides no defense for an abortion necessary to protect the health of the pregnant patient.

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Idaho’s criminal ban on all abortions, subject only to the statute’s two limited affirmative defenses, is in direct conflict with EMTALA and stands as an obstacle to achieving EMTALA’s federal goals of providing stabilizing care and treatment to any person who needs it.

The Department of Justice is committed to protecting access to reproductive services. Following the Supreme Court decision in dobbs, the Department of Justice established the Reproductive Rights Task Force, chaired by Deputy Attorney General Gupta. The Task Force is charged with protecting access to reproductive freedom under federal law. For additional information on the work of the Task Force, visit www.justice.gov/reproductive-rights.