By MICHAEL BALSAMO and REBECCA BOONE – Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Idaho’s restrictive abortion law, arguing it violates a federal law requiring doctors to provide medically necessary treatments to pregnant women, including abortion. .
The federal government has filed the lawsuit to invalidate the “state’s criminal prohibition against providing abortions as applied to women who are in medical emergencies,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
The announcement is the Justice Department’s first major action against a state trigger law since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The court’s decision has led some states to enact restrictive abortion laws and is likely to lead to abortion bans in about half of the states in the U.S.
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The Justice Department has filed suit because federal prosecutors believe Idaho’s law would force doctors to violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that requires anyone who comes to 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 other Republican-led states, has several anti-abortion laws on the books, creating a legal quagmire as the U.S. Supreme Court quashed the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights case.
The law targeted by the Department of Justice criminalizes all abortions and exposes anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion to a crime punishable by two to five years in prison.
People charged under the law could defend themselves against the criminal charges by arguing that the abortion was done to save a pregnant woman from death, or that the abortion was done after the pregnant person reported that she was the victim. was of rape or incest against a law enforcement agency — and provided a copy of that report to the abortion provider.
“Under Idaho law, once it becomes effective, any state or local prosecutor can charge, arrest and prosecute a physician by proving that an abortion was performed, regardless of the circumstances,” the Justice Department wrote in the statement. lawsuit. . “The law then puts the burden on the doctor to prove a ‘positive defense’ at trial.”
Proponents of sexual assault survivors have said the rape and incest exception is essentially useless, as the Idaho Public Records Act doesn’t allow law enforcement agencies to release reports when a case is still under investigation — a process that generally takes weeks. or months.
dr. Caitlin Gustafson, a primary care physician and a regional organization of Planned Parenthood have already filed charges over the abortion ban and two other anti-abortion laws with the Idaho Supreme Court, which is expected to hear arguments in the case Wednesday. In the lawsuit, Gustafson argues that the medical emergency exception is vague and impossible to interpret.
“It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to apply the medical exemption and provide care to a pregnant person whose life may be in danger,” Gustafson wrote, pointing out that some serious pregnancy-related medical conditions such as preeclampsia may cause death although this is not guaranteed.
Idaho Governor Brad Little, a Republican, said the US Supreme Court has given states the ability to regulate abortion, “end of the story”. He pledged to work with state attorney general Lawrence Wasden to defend the law.
“The US Justice Department’s interference in Idaho’s pro-life law is another example of Biden overreaching again,” 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 in the past six weeks to work out the matter.
“Rather than 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 meaningful dialogue on the matter, the federal government has chosen to wasting taxpayer money on an unnecessary lawsuit.”
Lauren Necochea, chairman of the Democratic Party of Idaho, praised the Justice Department’s lawsuit in a prepared statement, saying the state’s Republican politicians “would rather have a person killed by pregnancy than have an abortion. “
“Idaho’s radical abortion ban leaves health care providers with an impossible choice: withhold medically necessary care or face jail time,” Necochea said. “In states where this ban is in effect, health care providers wait for the medical condition to worsen before helping their pregnant patients, increasing the risk of sepsis and other life-threatening complications. This is immoral.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month told hospitals to provide abortion services when a mother’s life is at risk, saying the federal emergency treatment guidelines law takes precedence over the state’s ban on abortion if the mother’s life is at risk. the prohibitions do not contain adequate exceptions for medical emergencies.
In response, the state of Texas has sued the federal government, arguing that the Biden administration’s guidelines are illegal and that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act does not cover abortions. That case is still pending.
Balsamo reported from Washington, DC
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