By MICHAEL BALSAMO and REBECCA BOONE Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Idaho’s restrictive law. abortion law, arguing that it conflicts with a federal law that requires doctors to provide pregnant women with medically necessary treatment that could include abortion.
The federal government sued to invalidate the state’s “criminal prohibition on providing abortions to women suffering from medical emergencies,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
The announcement is the first major Justice Department action challenging a state activation law since The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The court’s decision has prompted some states to enact restrictive abortion laws and is likely to lead to abortion bans in about half of US states.
The Justice Department sued because federal prosecutors believe the Idaho law would force doctors to violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that requires anyone who goes to a medical facility for treatment emergency is stabilized and treated, Garland said.
“The Idaho law would make it a criminal offense for physicians to provide emergency medical treatment that is required by federal law,” Garland said.
Idaho, like many Republican-led states, has several anti-abortion laws on the books, creating a legal quagmire now that the US Supreme Court has struck down the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade.
The law the Justice Department is targeting criminalizes all abortions, subjecting anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion to a felony punishable by between two and five years in prison.
Persons charged under the law could defend themselves against criminal charges by arguing that the abortion was performed to save a pregnant person from death, or that it was performed after the pregnant person reported that she had been the victim of rape or incest to a law enforcement agency, and provided a copy of that report to the abortion provider.
“Under Idaho law, once it takes effect, any state or local prosecutor may charge, arrest, and prosecute a physician solely for proving that an abortion was performed, regardless of the circumstances,” the Justice Department wrote. on the demand. . “So the law places the burden on the doctor to prove an ‘affirmative defense’ at trial.”
Advocates for sexual assault survivors have said the rape and incest exception is essentially worthless, because Idaho’s public record law does not allow law enforcement agencies to release reports when a case is still under investigation, a process that typically takes weeks or months.
Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, a family physician and a regional Planned Parenthood organization, have already sued over abortion ban and two other anti-abortion laws in the Idaho Supreme Court, which is expected to hear arguments in the case on Wednesday. In the lawsuit, Gustafson contends that the emergency medical exception 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 at risk,” Gustafson wrote, noting that some serious medical conditions related to pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, can cause death. although it is not guaranteed that it will.
Idaho Governor Brad Little, a Republican, said the US Supreme Court gave states the ability to regulate abortion, “end of story.” He promised to work with the state attorney general, Lawrence Wasden, to uphold the law.
“The US Department of Justice’s interference with Idaho’s pro-life law is yet another example of Biden overreaching once again,” Little said in a prepared statement.
Wasden, also a Republican, called the lawsuit “politically motivated” and said the Justice Department should have contacted Idaho sometime in the last six weeks to resolve the issue.
“Instead of meeting the requirements of this provision,” Wasden said, referring to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, “or even attempting to engage Idaho in meaningful dialogue on the issue, the federal government has chosen to waste taxpayer money in unnecessary litigation.”
Idaho Democratic Party Chairwoman Lauren Necochea praised the Justice Department lawsuit in a prepared statement, saying the state’s Republican politicians “would rather let a pregnancy kill a person than allow them to have an abortion.”
“Idaho’s sweeping abortion ban gives health care providers an impossible choice: withhold medically necessary care or face prison time,” Necochea said. , increasing the risk of sepsis and other life-threatening complications. This is immoral.”
The US Department of Health and Human Services reported last month hospitals that must provide abortion services if the mother’s life is at risk, say that the federal emergency treatment guidelines law preempts state abortion bans if the bans do not have adequate exceptions for medical emergencies.
In response, the state of Texas sued the federal government, claiming that the Biden administration’s guidance is illegal and that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act does not cover abortions. That case is still pending.
Balsamo reported from Washington, D.C.
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