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Abortion ban in Idaho faces first U.S. legal challenge since Roe

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Idaho, says the state's abortion ban violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that compels hospitals receiving federal funds to provide emergency medical care.

U.S. Justice department sues Idaho over state law that imposes near total abortion ban in Washington
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks Tuesday during the announcement that the U.S. is suing Idaho over a state law that imposes a "near-absolute ban" on abortion at the Department of Justice in Washington.
Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters
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WASHINGTON -- The United States sued Idaho on Tuesday to block a state law that it said imposes a "near-absolute ban" on abortion, marking its first legal challenge to state abortion laws since the Supreme Court in June overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Idaho, says the state's abortion ban violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that compels hospitals receiving federal funds to provide emergency medical care.

It seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction against the state law. It also asks a court to bar Idaho from criminalizing doctors or stripping them of their medical licenses if they perform an emergency abortion.

"Today, the Justice Department's message is clear... if a patient comes into the emergency room with a medical emergency jeopardizing the patient's life or health, the hospital must provide the treatment necessary to stabilize that patient," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference in Washington announcing the filing.

"This includes abortion, when that is the necessary treatment," Garland added.

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In a statement on Twitter, Idaho Republican Governor Brad Little accused the Justice Department of interfering with state sovereignty and called it "another example of (President Joe) Biden overreaching yet again."

"Here in Idaho, we are proud that we have led the country in protecting preborn lives," he said.

The lawsuit comes just one day before the Idaho Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on the legality of the Idaho state law, which is due to take effect on Aug. 25.

The law would make it a felony to perform an abortion in most circumstances, with limited exceptions.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said at a press conference on Tuesday that the law "places the burden on physicians to prove at trial, following arrest and indictment, that they are not criminally liable."

The Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling on June 24 to overturn Roe v. Wade, which gave women the constitutional right to abortion care, has sent legal shock waves across the country.

About half of the 50 U.S. states have or are expected to seek to ban or curtail abortions. Those states include Idaho, which like 12 other states adopted "trigger" laws banning or restricting abortion upon such a decision.

Idaho also separately in March became the first state to enact a six-week abortion ban modeled on a Texas law that empowers private citizens to sue abortion providers.

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In mid-July, the Justice Department announced it was starting a task force to monitor and evaluate state legislation and enforcement actions that threaten to "infringe on federal legal protections" related to reproductive healthcare.

On Tuesday, Garland told reporters that the task force received many reports about women who are having trouble accessing reproductive healthcare. The department is evaluating them to determine if further litigation is necessary, he added.

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