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Idaho can enforce abortion ban in medical emergencies, court rules

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - Idaho can fully enforce its near-total abortion ban after a U.S. appeals court lifted a lower court order that had partially blocked it.

A unanimous panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the state ban on abortion, which includes a narrow exception for abortions that are necessary to prevent the mother's death, does not conflict with a federal law on emergency care.

The panel put on hold a lower court judge's order blocking the ban in cases where a doctor deems an abortion necessary to prevent serious jeopardy to the mother's health. The ruling allows Idaho's ban to take effect while the panel more fully considers an appeal by the state.

All three judges on the panel were appointed by Republican former president Donald Trump.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador said in a statement that his office had worked to "ensure Idaho's sensible law continues to save the lives of babies and provides medical professionals with the ability to exercise their judgment to assist women who need emergency care," and was "encouraged" by the ruling.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, which sued Idaho last year over its law, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Idaho in 2020 passed a so-called "trigger" law that would ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that had established a right to abortion nationwide. It overturned Roe last June.

Democratic President Joe Biden's administration sued Idaho in August, saying the state ban conflicted with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law requiring hospitals to "stabilize" patients with emergency medical conditions.

The administration said that could potentially require abortions that would not be included under Idaho's narrow exception for saving the mother's life. U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix agreed, blocking the 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."

But Circuit Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote for the panel Thursday that there was no conflict because EMTALA "does not set standards of care or specifically mandate that certain procedures, such as abortion, be offered."

He also said that any conflict had been eliminated since Hendrix's decision 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.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and David Gregorio)