The Idaho attorney general's office filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to permit the enforcement of a statewide abortion law, coming after a lower court ruled that the state can partially enforce the ban.
At issue 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. The federal government sued Idaho in a federal court and argued that the federal law prohibits Idaho from enforcing its regulation, which was initially blocked by an Idaho judge who sided with the Biden administration.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Idaho judge's decision in late September, allowing Idaho to enforce its law. The 9th Circuit in October then temporarily blocked enforcement of the law and granted a Department of Justice (DOJ) request to rehear the case.
Now, Idaho's motion to the Supreme Court asks the justices 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."
By Dobbs, the petition is referring to the Supreme Court's 2022 landmark ruling that 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.
What's more, according to the Idaho attorney general's office, EMTALA "is silent" regarding the issue of abortion and instead "actually requires stabilizing treatment for the unborn children of pregnant women."
The Idaho attorney general's office wrote that "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."
"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."
In 2020, Idaho passed a so-called trigger law that would ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that allowed abortions nationwide. Justice Samuel Alito, in overturning the law, essentially returned the issue of abortion back to the states to choose whether they want to allow it, although the ruling has often been mischaracterized by legacy media outlets.
Idaho's law allows a 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 a reported rape or incest. However, the physician has to carry out a procedure that's likely to save both the life of the child and the mother.
However, the Biden administration wrote in its lawsuit last year that it could potentially require abortions that wouldn't be included under Idaho's narrow exception to save the mother's life.
U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix for the Northern District of Texas agreed and blocked 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."
The appeals court judge also said any conflict had been eliminated since Judge Hendrix's decision was made, because the state Legislature had 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.
As the lawsuit was filed by the DOJ last year, Attorney General Merrick Garland released a statement arguing that women in Idaho "can obtain the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law," which includes an "abortion when that is the necessary treatment."
Mr. Garland also vowed that the DOJ will "continue to use every tool at its disposal" to go after laws that block abortions.