- The Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Idaho, claiming that the state’s near-total abortion ban blocks clinicians from providing necessary care in emergency situations, a violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).
- Idaho’s abortion law, expected to take effect on Aug. 25, bans almost all abortions and criminalizes doctors who perform abortions even in situations that “prevent a patient from suffering severe health risks or even death,” according to the lawsuit complaint.
- “Although the Idaho law provides an exception to prevent the death of a pregnant woman, it includes no exception for cases in which the abortion is necessary to prevent serious jeopardy to the woman’s health,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday.
The Biden administration has warned that even amid the overturning of Roe v. Wade, hospitals need to continue to provide emergency services, including abortions. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to providers across the country stating that doctors must provide abortions, regardless of state law, if the procedure is required in an emergency scenario.
“Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in July.
EMTALA, enacted in 1986, requires hospitals and facilities to stabilize patients and transfer them if necessary.
In the days since the overturning of Roe, there have been widespread reports of delays and denials of treatment for pregnant women experiencing medical emergencies, Garland said in a press conference Tuesday.
“Today, the Justice Department’s message is clear: It does not matter what state a hospital subject to EMTALA operates in. 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.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said during the press conference that Idaho’s law places a chilling effect on providers and puts them in impossible situations.
Idaho’s abortion law, which was passed by the state legislature in 2020, allows abortions with exceptions for rape and incest only if the crime is reported to police. It’s one of several states in the U.S. that has enacted near-total abortion bans after Roe was overturned.
It’s also one of several states that is seeking to criminalize doctors who perform abortions.
“[The ban] would subject doctors to arrest and criminal prosecution even if they performed an abortion to save a woman’s life,” Garland said at a press conference. “And it would then place the burden on the doctors to prove that they are not criminally liable.”
Samantha Liss contributed reporting.