The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing the state of Idaho over its abortion law – scheduled to go into effect on August 25 – that bans all abortions except “to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.” The DOJ argues that the state law does not permit federally regulated hospitals and emergency rooms to comply with a federal law which it says mandates that abortions be performed for “emergency medical conditions.”

According to a press release from the DOJ, the Complaint filed in federal court in Idaho “seeks a declaratory judgment that the Idaho law conflicts with, and is preempted by, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) in situations where an abortion is necessary stabilizing treatment for an emergency medical condition.”

The DOJ is also seeking an injunction permanently blocking the Idaho law “to the extent that it conflicts with EMTALA.”

The lawsuit is not actually a surprise. The Daily Citizen reported last month on the DOJ task force recently organized to monitor state abortion laws and sue any states not considered to be in compliance with federal laws such as EMTALA.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent a warning letter to health care providers in all the states regarding EMTALA and the need to perform certain “emergency” abortions.

But it’s disputed that EMTALA requires emergency abortions. In fact, one state is already pushing back on the federal attempt to turn the nation’s emergency rooms into de facto abortion clinics. Texas is suing HHS, claiming that the new HHS emergency room policy violates the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal dollars from being used to fund abortions except when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or the woman’s life is in danger.

Texas argues that by conditioning the receipt of Medicare funds on providing abortions under the terms of the HHS abortion mandate, HHS is requiring the use of federal dollars to coerce healthcare providers to supply abortions outside the allowable scope under the Hyde Amendment.

Legal expert Ed Whelan tweeted that the DOJ picked “a surprisingly small first target” in the Idaho law, which is not yet in effect. Whelan suggested that EMTALA imposes requirements on hospitals, and they should be DOJ’s target, not the state of Idaho and its abortion law.

In the DOJ press release announcing the lawsuit, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said, “Federal law is clear: patients have the right to stabilizing hospital emergency room care no matter where they live. Women should not have to be near death to get care. The Department of Health and Human Services will continue its work with the Department of Justice to enforce federal law protecting access to health care, including abortions.”

We’ll keep you updated on this lawsuit as it progresses.

The case is United States v. Idaho.


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