The Biden administration is suing Idaho to block the state's abortion "trigger law," arguing it has violated federal law requiring hospitals to provide medically necessary treatment to patients before discharging them.
Attorney General Merrick Garland detailed the lawsuit at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, arguing that federal law preempts state laws imposing near total bans on abortion.
“On the day Roe and Casey were overturned, we promised that the Justice Department would work tirelessly to protect and advance reproductive freedom,” Garland said, according to KXAS-TV. “That is what we are doing, and that is what we will continue to do.”
“We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that pregnant women get the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law,” he added.
The U.S. Department of Justice says that hospitals that receive Medicare funds are required to provide "necessary stabilizing treatment" to patients who are experiencing a "medical emergency," under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. The government interprets "emergency medical conditions" to mean risks to life as well as "those that place a patient's 'health' in 'serious jeopardy' or risk 'serious impairment to bodily functions' or 'serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part,'" the lawsuit states.
DOJ claims that Idaho's abortion law, set to take effect in August, would "make it a criminal offense to comply with EMTALA's requirement to provide stabilizing treatment, even where a doctor determines that abortion is the medical treatment necessary to prevent a patient from suffering severe health risks or even death."
Examples of such circumstances may include ectopic pregnancy, severe preeclampsia, or a pregnancy complication threatening septic infection or hemorrhage, DOJ said.
"The suit seeks to hold invalid the state's criminal prohibition on providing abortions as applied to women who are suffering medical emergencies," Garland said.
The attorney general characterized the Idaho law's medical exemptions as "extremely narrow" and said claimed the law "would subject doctors to arrest and criminal prosecution even if they performed an abortion to save a woman's life."
Garland is seeking a court order to "preliminarily and permanently" block Idaho's law from taking effect.
The Idaho law, passed in 2020, criminalizes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is endangered, and makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison for anyone to perform or attempt to perform the procedure. The law provides that a health care provider who performs an abortion may submit proof the procedure was medically necessary to prevent the mother's death or a police report showing rape or incest to avoid criminal charges. It was activated after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in its landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision.
Facing questions from reporters, Garland denied the federal government was trying to circumvent the Supreme Court's decision, arguing nothing in the court's decision prevents Congress from legislating abortion rights and that federal statutes preempt state abortion restrictions regarding medical emergencies.
"This is not in any way going around the Supreme Court," Garland said.
The lawsuit against Idaho follows the creation of a Reproductive Rights Task Force at the Justice Department, which Garland has tasked with monitoring and pushing back against state and local efforts to restrict abortion.