On Monday, the Idaho attorney general’s office filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, allowing them to permit the enforcement of a statewide abortion law, after a lower court ruled that the state could partially enforce a ban after the Biden administration filed a lawsuit against the state last year
The petition, filed on Nov. 20, asks the top court to stay an injunction, preventing the state from issuing penalties to doctors who perform abortions under certain emergency situations.
The subject of the petition is the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires hospitals to offer abortions to stabilize a pregnant woman in an emergency situation.
Idaho was sued by the US government in federal court, which argued that the federal law prohibits Idaho from enforcing its regulation. The regulation was initially blocked by an Idaho judge who sided with the Biden administration.
In late September, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the judge’s decision, allowing the state to enforce the law. However, the 9th circuit temporarily blocked enforcement of the law in October, granting the Department of Justice’s request to rehear the case.
Now, Idaho seeks to immediately halt the 9th Circuit’s October ruling.
“The United States’ position conflicts with the universal agreement of federal courts of appeal that EMTALA does not dictate a federal standard of care or displace state medical standards,” the Nov. 20 petition reads.
“The district court accepted the United States’ revisionist, post-Dobbs reading of EMTALA and enjoined Idaho’s Defense of Life Act in emergency rooms.” Dobbs is the landmark 2022 case which overturned Roe v. Wade.
“The district court’s injunction effectively turns EMTALA’s protection for the uninsured into a federal super-statute on the issue of abortion, one that strips Idaho of its sovereign interest in protecting innocent, human life and turns emergency rooms into a federal enclave where state standards of care do not apply,” it reads.
In addition, the Idaho attorney general’s office alleges that EMTALA “is silent” regarding the issue of abortion, and instead “actually requires stabilizing treatment for the unborn children of pregnant women.”
“EMTALA does not require any particular form of medical treatment—abortion or otherwise—an Idaho hospital complies with EMTALA by providing a pregnant woman with an emergency medical condition the same care it would give to any similarly situated patient, regardless of ability to pay,” the Idaho AG’s office wrote.
“That may include medical treatments other than abortion to resolve a pregnant woman’s emergency medical condition,” the petition reads. “In sum, the United States has no legitimate interest in compelling Idaho’s compliance with an implied federal mandate contrary to EMTALA’s text and context.”
Idaho was one of the states that had a “trigger law,” passed in 2020, which would immediately ban abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade was to be overturned, which occurred several years later.
Idaho’s law allows any doctor who performs an abortion to raise the defense that the procedure is needed to save the life of the mother, or that the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. However, the physician must carry out a procedure that’s likely to save both the life and child of the mother.
The Biden administration’s lawsuit also attempted to require abortions that wouldn’t be included under Idaho’s exception to save the mother’s life. U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix for the Northern District of Texas agreed, blocking the Idaho law from being enforced, in cases of abortions needed to avoid putting the patient’s health in “serious jeopardy,” or risking “serious impairment to bodily functions.”
However, 9th Circuit Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote for the panel in September that there was no conflict because EMTALA “does not set standards of care or specifically mandate that certain procedures, such as abortion, be offered.”
Additionally, Judge VanDyke said that the conflict had been eliminated since Judge Hendrix’s decision was made, because the state Legislature had since passed an amendment clarifying the law and the state’s Supreme Court had clarified that the exception applies when a doctor believes, in good faith, that an abortion is necessary to save the mother’s life.
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