By MICHAEL BALSAMO and REBECCA BOONE
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Justice Department on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging Idaho’s restrictive abortion law, arguing that it conflicts with a federal law requiring doctors to provide pregnant women with medically necessary treatment which may include abortion.
The federal government has filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down “the state’s criminal prohibition on providing abortions as applied to women with medical emergencies,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
The announcement is the Justice Department’s first major action challenging a state trigger law since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June. The court ruling has led some states to enact restrictive abortion laws and will likely lead to abortion bans in about half of US states.
The Justice Department sued because federal prosecutors believe the Idaho law would require doctors to violate the federal Emergency Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that requires anyone visiting in a medical facility for emergency treatment to be stabilized and treated, Garland said.
“Idaho law would make it a criminal offense for physicians to provide emergency medical treatment required by federal law,” Garland said.
Idaho, like many Republican-run states, has several anti-abortion laws in effect, creating a legal quagmire now that the US 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 punishable by two to five years in prison.
Persons charged under the law could defend themselves against the criminal allegations by arguing that the abortion was performed to save a pregnant person from death, or that it was performed after the pregnant person reported having been victim of rape or incest to a law enforcement agency – and provided a copy of this report to the abortion provider.
“Under Idaho law, once in effect, any state or local prosecutor can subject a physician to indictment, arrest, and prosecution simply by showing that an abortion was performed, regardless of circumstances,” the Justice Department wrote in the lawsuit. . “The law then places the onus on the doctor to prove an ‘affirmative defense’ at trial.”
Advocates for sexual assault survivors have said the rape and incest exception is essentially unnecessary because Idaho’s public records law does not allow law enforcement to release reports when a case is still under investigation – a process that usually takes weeks or months.
Family physician Dr. Caitlin Gustafson and a regional Planned Parenthood organization have already sued the abortion ban and two other anti-abortion laws in the Idaho Supreme Court, which is expected to hear arguments from the business on Wednesday. In the lawsuit, Gustafson argues that the exception for medical emergencies is vague and impossible to interpret.
“It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to implement the medical exception and provide care to a pregnant person whose life may be in danger,” Gustafson wrote, noting that certain serious medical conditions related to the pregnancy like preeclampsia can lead to death. although it is not guaranteed to do so.
Idaho Governor Brad Little, a Republican, said the US Supreme Court had given states the ability to regulate abortion, “end of story”. He promised to work with state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to defend the law.
“The US Department of Justice’s interference in Idaho’s pro-life law is another example of Biden once again going too far,” Little said in a prepared statement.
Wasden, also a Republican, said the lawsuit was “politically motivated” and said the Justice Department should have contacted Idaho within the last six weeks to resolve the issue.
“Instead of complying with the requirements of this provision,” Wasden said, referring to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, “or even attempting to engage Idaho in a meaningful dialogue about the issue, the federal government has chosen to waste taxpayers’ money on an unnecessary lawsuit.”
Idaho Democratic Party Chairwoman Lauren Necochea welcomed the Justice Department’s lawsuit in a prepared statement, saying Republican politicians in the state “would rather let a pregnancy kill a person than allow them to to have an abortion”.
“Idaho’s sweeping abortion ban gives health care providers an impossible choice: refuse medically necessary care or risk jail time,” Necochea said. “In states where these bans have gone into effect, providers are waiting for medical conditions to worsen before helping their pregnant patients, increasing the risk of sepsis and other life-threatening complications. It is immoral.
Last month, the US Department of Health and Human Services told hospitals they must provide abortion services if the mother’s life was in danger, saying the federal abortion treatment guidelines law emergency overrides state abortion bans if the bans do not include adequate exceptions for medical reasons. emergency room.
In response, the state of Texas sued the federal government, claiming that the Biden administration’s advice is illegal and that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act does not cover abortions. This case is still pending.
Balsamo brought from Washington, DC