Idaho asked the Supreme Court on Monday to allow enforcement of the state’s abortion ban as it applies to emergency rooms, after federal courts blocked that aspect in a legal challenge from the Biden administration.
Idaho’s law allows state officials to prosecute or revoke the professional license of doctors who perform abortions unless it was necessary to prevent the woman’s death, or the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.
The Biden administration sued in 2022, arguing that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires emergency departments to treat and stabilize any patient, and that doctors there could conclude an abortion is necessary to do so.
Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho in 2022 ruled that state officials for now can’t enforce the state law against doctors who are also required to follow a federal law to stabilize emergency patients.
Winmill wrote that a doctor making those complex, difficult decisions in a fast-moving, chaotic environment “may well find herself facing the impossible task of attempting to simultaneously comply with both federal and state law.”
In a petition filed Monday, the state urged the justices to intervene to pause the lower court ruling 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.”
The case is one of dozens percolating through the courts following the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned a constitutional right to an abortion.
Last year after the court’s decision in Dobbs, the state enacted the near-total ban on abortions, with exceptions for the life of the mother and when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
The Idaho law has been in courts for more than a year. The state appealed Winmill’s ruling, and a panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit then issued a ruling that would have allowed the law to go into effect.
Then, earlier this month, an en banc panel of 9th Circuit judges again put the law on pause, and the state asked the justices to intervene in a filing officially docketed Monday.
Idaho’s application argued that Winmill’s initial decision and the latest one from the 9th Circuit trampled on the justices’ effort to endorse states’ rights with the Dobbs decision. Idaho leaders passed a statute making their own judgment about the legality of abortion in the state.
The state argued the federal emergency care law at issue is meant to prevent “patient dumping” — hospitals turning away sick patients who could not pay for care — not allow the federal government to dictate state law.
The Biden administration has until Thursday to respond. The federal emergency care law at issue has become an issue in numerous lawsuits over state abortion restrictions enacted since the Dobbs decision, including a case in Texas where a federal judge found the law did not require abortion care.