Federal Judge Blocks Idaho Abortion Ban In Medical Emergencies

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Federal Judge Blocks Idaho Abortion Ban In Medical Emergencies
The ruling means the state temporarily cannot prosecute anyone who is performing an abortion in an emergency medical situation.

A federal judge in Idaho has barred the state from enforcing a strict abortion ban in medical emergencies over concerns that it violates a federal law on emergency care.

The ruling Wednesday evening came after a federal judge this week in Texas made the opposite call, barring the federal government from enforcing a legal interpretation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act that would require Texas hospitals to provide abortion services if the health or life of the mother is at risk.

In Idaho, the ban makes performing an abortion in any “clinically diagnosable pregnancy” a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Much of Idaho's law will still go into effect Thursday, but U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Wednesday the state cannot prosecute anyone who is performing an abortion in an emergency medical situation.

That’s because abortions in those cases appear to fall under a federal health care law requiring Medicare-funded hospitals to provide “stabilizing treatment” to patients, Winmill said.

That includes cases when the health of a pregnant patient is in serious jeopardy, when continuing the pregnancy could result in a serious impairment to a person’s bodily functions, or a serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.

The pause on enforcement in Idaho will continue until a lawsuit challenging the ban is resolved, the judge said in the written ruling.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued the Republican-led state of Idaho earlier this month, saying the abortion ban set to take effect on Thursday violates the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor (EMTALA) Act . Idaho’s law criminalizes all abortions in “clinically diagnosable pregnancies,” but allows physicians to defend themselves in court by arguing the procedure was necessary to avert the death of the mother.

Idaho Attorney General’s spokesman Scott Graf said his office would not comment on the ruling because the case is still working its way through the courts.

Winmill said the case wasn’t about abortion rights but about whether state or federal law takes precedence in this situation. The judge in the Idaho case said it was clear federal law did.

Winmill said the Idaho law would pose a dilemma for a doctor who felt they had to, under “EMTALA obligations,” perform an abortion to save the life of the mother even though they are banned under state law.

“At its core, the Supremacy Clause says state law must yield to federal law when it’s impossible to comply with both. And that’s all this case is about,” Winmill wrote. “It’s not about the bygone constitutional right to an abortion.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.