DOJ announces lawsuit against Idaho over abortion access

At a press conference on Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department is filing suit against Idaho over the state’s abortion ban. The DOJ alleges it prevents access to emergency medical treatment for pregnant women.

Video Transcript

MERRICK B. GARLAND: Today, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho. The suit seeks to hold invalid the state's criminal prohibition on providing abortions as applied to women who are suffering medical emergencies. Under a federal law known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act-- or EMTALA-- every hospital that receives Medicare funds must provide necessary stabilizing treatment to a patient who arrives at an emergency room suffering from a medical condition that could place their life or health in serious jeopardy.

In some circumstances, the medical treatment necessary to stabilize the patient's condition is abortion. This may be the case, for example, when a woman is undergoing a miscarriage that threatens septic infection or hemorrhage, or is suffering from severe preeclampsia. When a hospital determines that an abortion is the medical treatment necessary to stabilize the patient's emergency medical condition, it is required by federal law to provide that treatment.

As detailed in our complaint, Idaho's law would make it a criminal offense for doctors to provide the emergency medical treatment that federal law requires. Although the Idaho law provides an exception to prevent the death of a pregnant woman, it includes no exception for cases in which the abortion is necessary to prevent serious jeopardy to the woman's health. Moreover, it would subject doctors to arrest and criminal prosecution, even if they performed an abortion to save a woman's life. And it would then place the burden on the doctors to prove that they are not criminally liable.

The United States therefore seeks a declaratory judgment that Idaho's law violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and is preempted by federal law to the extent it is in conflict with EMTALA. The United States also seeks an injunction prohibiting Idaho from enforcing its law against health care providers who provide the emergency treatment required by EMTALA.

In the days since the Dobbs decision there have been widespread reports of delays and denials of treatment to pregnant women experiencing medical emergencies. Today, the Justice Department's message is clear. It does not matter what state a hospital subject to EMTALA operates in.

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. This includes abortion, when that is the necessary treatment. Any state law that prevents a hospital from fulfilling its obligation under EMTALA violates federal law.