Idaho abortion ban partially blocked by federal judge


(NewsNation) — A federal judge in Idaho on Wednesday blocked a portion of the state’s abortion ban in a limited victory for the Biden administration.

The ruling prohibits the state from penalizing doctors who perform abortions in cases of medical emergencies. The Justice Department sued the state earlier this year, arguing the near-total ban conflicts with federal law that protects the right to an abortion when the health or life of the mother is at risk.

Much of Idaho’s ban will still go into effect Thursday, but U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that prosecuting doctors who perform an abortion in medical emergencies may violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, enacted by Congress in 1986. The law requires hospitals that receive Medicare funding to treat any patient who needs emergency care, including pregnant women.

In his ruling, Winmill said the case wasn’t about abortion rights but about whether state or federal law takes precedence in this situation.

He 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.”

The enforcement restriction will continue until a lawsuit challenging the ban concludes, the judge said.

Idaho was one of several states to enact an abortion ban following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June. The lawsuit filed by the Justice Department was the first action taken against a state since the ruling.

It’s one of many suits Idaho is facing, including a challenge to a law that allows potential relatives of an embryo or fetus to sue abortion providers for up to $20,000. The state Supreme Court ruled this month it wouldn’t block the bans while the legal challenges play out.

The ruling in Idaho ran counter to one issued this week in Texas, which sued the Department of Health and Human Services last month, arguing the federal law doesn’t require doctors to provide abortions if doing so would violate a state law.

U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix, in a ruling Tuesday, temporarily blocked the government from enforcing the guidance, saying it would force physicians to place the health of the pregnant person over that of the fetus or embryo even though EMTALA “is silent as to abortion.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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