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Biden administration sues Idaho over abortion ban

Abortion-rights advocates and abortion-rights opponents demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before fetal viability.
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Abortion-rights advocates and abortion-rights opponents demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before fetal viability.

The Biden administration is suing the state of Idaho, saying its soon-to-be enacted abortion ban violates a federal law requiring hospitals receiving Medicare funds to perform emergency medical care.

This is the fourth lawsuit filed against one of the state’s several laws banning abortions. It was filed in federal district court Tuesday morning.

The U.S. Justice Department is specifically targeting a 2020 law set to go into effect on Aug. 25 that would outlaw abortions in nearly every case.

Under the law, women would only be able to get an abortion in cases of rape, incest or if their life is threatened.

But in court documents, federal lawyers said the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires hospitals with an “emergency medical condition” to be cared for if they accept federal dollars.

That includes conditions that put a patient’s health in “serious jeopardy” or that could result in other severe conditions.

About 39 emergency rooms in Idaho are required to provide this type of service under the federal law, according to the lawsuit.

“Idaho’s abortion law will therefore prevent doctors from performing abortions even when a doctor determines that abortion is the medically necessary treatment to prevent severe risk to the patient’s health,” the lawsuit said.

Attorney General Merrick Garland held a press conference Tuesday announcing the lawsuit.

“If a patient comes into the emergency room with a medical emergency jeopardizing the patient’s life or health, the hospital must provide the treatment necessary to stabilize that patient,” Garland said.

Should a doctor be convicted of performing an illegal abortion, they would face between two to five years in prison. Their medical license would be suspended for the first offense and permanently revoked for a second conviction.

“The law thus places medical professionals in an impossible situation,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “They must either withhold stabilizing treatment, or risk felony prosecution and license revocation.”

Specifically, the lawsuit claims Idaho’s law violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which generally finds that federal laws trump state laws and constitutions.

Court documents say federal officials sent a letter to the state of Idaho, warning of the alleged violation. DOJ said it didn’t receive a “substantive response.”

Gov. Brad Little slammed the lawsuit in a statement Tuesday.

“Our nation’s highest court returned the issue of abortion to the states to regulate – end of story,” Little wrote.

“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.”

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden also issued a statement, calling the move "politically motivated."

“Instead of complying with the requirements of this provision and reconciling [the two laws], 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 wrote.

The Idaho Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday morning in two cases seeking to block a pair of abortion restrictions passed by state lawmakers over the past couple of years.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!