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Idaho Legislature asks judge to reconsider abortion ruling

The U.S. Department of Justice has not yet responded to the Legislature's request.
Credit: AP
FILE - U.S. Department of Justice attorney Brian Netter, left, and Boise attorney Wendy Olson, center, talk with Idaho Sen. Melissa Wintrow, right, Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Rev. Sara LaWall, second from left, and Collister United Methodist Rev. Jenny Willison Hirst, second from right, after oral arguments in the federal courthouse in Boise, Idaho, on Aug. 22, 2022. The Idaho Legislature has asked a federal judge to reconsider his decision blocking the state from enforcing a strict abortion ban in medical emergencies. (AP Photo/Rebecca Boone, File)

BOISE, Idaho — (AP) — The Idaho Legislature has asked a federal judge to reconsider his decision blocking the state from enforcing a strict abortion ban in medical emergencies.

In court documents filed Wednesday, attorneys for the Legislature said Senior U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill incorrectly followed the guidance of President Joe Biden's administration rather than using the standards set by Congress when he found that Idaho's ban appeared to violate a federal law governing emergency health care services at Medicare-funded hospitals.

“Congress drew its line to protect both the mother and the unborn child in an emergency medical situation,” the legislature's attorneys, Daniel Bower and Monte Neil Stewart, wrote in court documents. “By contrast, the Administration draws its line to eliminate all protection for the unborn child in such situations.”

The Idaho law makes performing an abortion in any “clinically diagnosable pregnancy” a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, but says that physicians can defend themselves in court by showing that the procedure was necessary to avert the pregnant person's death.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued Idaho last month, saying the ban violates the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The law requires Medicare-funded hospitals to providing stabilizing care to patients experiencing medical emergencies, and the Justice Department says that include abortions in cases where the health of the pregnant patient is in jeopardy or when continuing the pregnancy could seriously harm the pregnant patient's organs or body parts.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued the EMTALA guidance in July, weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit between a Mississippi abortion clinic and Mississippi state health officer Thomas Dobbs that abortion is not a constitutional right.

The Justice Department asked Winmill to temporarily stop the state from enforcing the abortion ban in emergency medical situations, and late last month Winmill agreed. The ban is still enforceable for all other abortions, however.

Attorneys for the state Legislature said EMTALA doesn't supercede Idaho's law when it comes to the issue of abortions, and that it also lacks clarity on the issue of abortion procedures. The Biden Administration's guidance was an effort to find its way around the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case pitting

“The people of Idaho enjoy constitutional authority to govern themselves with respect to abortion, and no federal statute, however overread by an Administration committed to countering Dobbs, can lawfully diminish that authority,” the attorneys wrote.

The U.S. Department of Justice has not yet responded to the Legislature's request.

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