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A federal judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of the Justice Department’s lawsuit challenging the state’s total abortion ban, clearing the way for hospitals to provide the service in an emergency medical situation.
Much of the law will still go into effect Thursday, but U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said the state cannot prosecute anyone who is performing an abortion in an emergency medical situation. Abortions in those cases appear to fall under a federal health care law requiring Medicare-funded hospitals to provide “stabilizing treatment” to patients in cases where their health is in serious jeopardy.
The pause on enforcement will continue until a lawsuit challenging the ban is resolved, Winmill said in the written ruling.
The DOJ sued Idaho earlier this month, saying the abortion ban set to take effect on Thursday violates the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). 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 mother’s death.
FILE: A group of teenagers protests the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health case on July 2, 2022 on the main street in Driggs, Idaho. (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
Attorney General Merrick Garland released a statement on the development.
“Today’s decision by the District Court for the District of Idaho ensures that women in the State of Idaho can obtain the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law. This includes abortion when that is the necessary treatment. As the District Court ruled, a state law that attempts to prevent a hospital from fulfilling its obligations under EMTALA violates federal law and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Garland said.
He continued: “The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool at its disposal to defend the reproductive rights protected by federal law.”
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.
The ruling coincided on the same day a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the federal government from enforcing a legal interpretation that would require hospitals in the state to provide abortion services if the health or life of the mother is at risk.
Attorney General Garland’s statement also addressed the Texas ruling, saying the DOJ disagrees with the decision and is “considering appropriate next steps.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.