Federal Judge Questions Idaho Abortion Ban in Lawsuit Brought by Biden Administration: Updated

UPDATE: Late Wednesday, Judge Lynn Winmill granted the Biden Department of Justice’s request for an injunction on Idaho’s abortion ban as it pertains to medical emergencies.

“The Court hereby restrains and enjoins the State of Idaho, including all of its officers, employees, and agents, from enforcing Idaho Code § 18-622(2)-(3) as applied to medical care required by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA),” Winmill wrote, adding the state is prohibited “from initiating any criminal prosecution against, attempting to suspend or revoke the professional license of, or seeking to impose any other form of liability on, any medical provider or hospital based on their performance of conduct that (1) is defined as an “abortion” under Idaho Code § 18-604(1), but that is necessary to avoid (i) “placing the health of” a pregnant patient “in serious jeopardy”; (ii) a “serious impairment to bodily functions” of the pregnant patient; or (iii) a “serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part” of the pregnant patient.”

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A federal judge appeared to consider the Biden administration’s claim that Idaho’s abortion ban would violate the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) as having merit.

Judge B. Lynn Winmill, of U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, said during a hearing regarding the challenge brought against the state by the Biden administration that, although the law allows for abortions to prevent the death of a pregnant woman, doctors who performed the procedure in an emergency might still be hesitant to do so based on their “good faith medical judgment,” as stipulated in the Idaho law.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) states regarding EMTALA:

In 1986, Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay. Section 1867 of the Social Security Act imposes specific obligations on Medicare-participating hospitals that offer emergency services to provide a medical screening examination (MSE) when a request is made for examination or treatment for an emergency medical condition (EMC), including active labor, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay. Hospitals are then required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with EMCs. If a hospital is unable to stabilize a patient within its capability, or if the patient requests, an appropriate transfer should be implemented.

“It would be the rare situation where a doctor is willing or anxious to push the limits and go right up to the edge of what is allowed under the Idaho abortion statute,” said Winmill, a Bill Clinton appointee, according to Reuters.

Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General Brian Netter, arguing on behalf of the Biden administration, urged Winmill to block a “law which will cause drastic effects and dramatic consequences.”

Attorney Monte Stewart, who represents Idaho’s Republican-led legislature, however, reportedly argued prosecutors would be unlikely to bring a case against a doctor performing an abortion for a woman in such a dire emergency in the “real world.”

On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization:

The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled in mid-August against Planned Parenthood, allowing the state’s abortion ban to take effect.

The law is set to take effect Thursday, and Winmill said he would rule by Wednesday.

The ruling is anticipated as a Texas federal judge has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing new “guidance” requiring hospitals to provide emergency abortions as per EMTALA.

On Tuesday, Judge James Wesley Hendrix of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, a Donald Trump appointee, agreed with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) that the Biden administration’s guidance was an overreach of a related federal law, Reuters reported.

In his ruling, which only applies to Texas, Hendrix wrote, “That guidance goes well beyond EMTALA’s text, which protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent as to abortion, and preempts state law only when the two directly conflict.”

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]

 

 

 

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