The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Idaho over a law that imposes a ban on the vast majority of abortions, coming weeks after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to overturn Roe v. Wade while marking what could the first in several Biden administration efforts to target states over their respective abortion laws.
An Idaho law slated to take effect Aug. 25 was triggered by the Supreme Court’s decision in late June and would make it a felony for health care providers to carry out abortions except to save the life of the mother or in instances involving incest or rape that are reported to law enforcement.
The law, which was passed two years ago, would also make providing abortions a felony with a punishment of up to five years in prison.
In an announcement Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland claimed the law runs afoul of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, that allows providers to give medically stabilizing treatment during an emergency. Under the law, Garland argued, such care includes performing an abortion.
“If a patient comes into the emergency room with a medical emergency jeopardizing the patient’s life or health, hospitals must provide the treatment necessary to stabilize that patient,” Garland said. “This includes abortion, and that is the necessary treatment.”
First of Many
It’s the first DOJ lawsuit to target a state over an abortion ban adopted following the Supreme Court’s ruling. A majority of justices said that the Constitution doesn’t say a woman has a right to obtain an abortion while adding that it should be up to the states to decide on whether the procedure—which some religious groups and conservatives say is murder—should be allowed or not.
“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 during a press conference on Tuesday in announcing the legal challenge (pdf). He was making reference to not only Roe v. Wade, but another case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which was also overturned by the high court.
“That is what we are doing, and that is what we will continue to do,” Garland added. “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.”
Abortion providers and pro-abortion groups in Idaho have also challenged the state’s trigger law. Idaho’s Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on Aug. 3.
Meanwhile, Garland claimed that the legal action taken against the state’s law has “nothing to do with going around” the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The Supreme Court left it to the people’s representatives. EMTALA was a decision made by the Congress of the United States. The supremacy clause is a decision made in the Constitution of the United States. Federal law invalidates state laws that are in direct contradiction,” he said.