Medical groups and 20 states intervene in Idaho abortion lawsuit

Idaho State Police form a line between those attending an anti-abortion celebration and protesters who came out in support of abortion rights at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise on June 28. A legal battle over abortion rights pitting Idaho against the US government has dozens of states and major medical associations seeking to weigh in. (Sarah A. Miller, Idaho Statesman via AP)

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BOISE — A legal battle over abortion rights pitting one of the nation’s reddest states against the U.S. government has dozens of states and major medical associations seeking to weigh in.

Twenty states, Washington, DC, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics and others are among those who filed memoirs from “friends of the court,” siding with the federal government’s claims that Idaho’s near-total abortion ban violates federal health care law.

“It will really put doctors in a lose-lose situation,” said Jeff Dubner, deputy legal director of Democracy Forward, the legal team representing the coalition of medical associations.

Doctors who abide by federal law will face criminal prosecution and loss of their medical license, Dubner said, and those who abide by state law could harm patients’ health and put themselves at risk, as well. than their hospitals, federal fines or loss of funding. .

Idaho’s abortion ban makes performing almost all abortions a crime, but allows doctors to defend themselves in court by showing that the procedure was necessary to save a patient’s life. The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires Medicaid-funded hospitals to provide “stabilizing” treatment to patients in medical emergencies, and the US Department of Justice says this includes certain abortions.

The Justice Department sued Idaho earlier this month in federal court and asked a judge to block the abortion ban from taking effect.

Idaho’s neighbors in Oregon and Washington were among states that joined in filing another friend-of-court filing, saying they feared the ‘ripple effect’ that a ban on abortion could create as Idaho patients with ectopic pregnancies or other emergencies are sent to hospitals in Seattle or Portland for treatment.

States further afield, such as North Carolina, point out that their own pregnant residents could be at risk of death or injury if they become ill while visiting Idaho.

“Women’s lives are in danger because politicians are trying to take away their right to get the medical care they need,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. “States try to ban abortions in all cases, including rape, incest and when the mother’s health is in danger. Denying women health care when their life or health is in danger is infringing federal law. I am taking these actions to help the people of North Carolina who may need urgent care in other states as well as other women across our country.”


Women’s lives are in danger because politicians try to take away their right to get the medical care they need.

– North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein


Even if the federal government wins the lawsuit, it’s likely most abortions will remain banned in Idaho, where three major abortion bans have been enacted in the past two years.

In court documents, medical organizations have argued that the “mother’s life” provision of the ban is too narrow to apply to real medical situations and fails to take into account how quickly a complication pregnancy can be fatal.

In the case of a pregnant patient with severe bleeding, “how many units of blood should she lose?” A ? Of them ? Five ? the organizations wrote in court documents. “How fast must she bleed? Soak two towels per hour? Three? How low must her blood pressure be?”

Other professional organizations that signed the amicus curiae brief include the American Medical Association, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, National Medical Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Public Health Association. The American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges wrote a separate brief also supporting the Justice Department.

The states, meanwhile, have pointed out in court documents that abortion bans in other states have already led to delays or denials of emergency medical care.

A patient traveled to Michigan after being denied care for an ectopic pregnancy in her home state because the fetus still had detectable heart activity – making an abortion potentially illegal under the laws. saying heartbeat laws, according to the memoir.

In Missouri, a hospital required special approval from a pharmacist to dispense the drugs needed to stop severe postpartum bleeding for patients, leading to delays in care. And a Wisconsin patient who had a miscarriage was bleeding in the hospital for 10 days before the hospital removed the fetal tissue due to confusion over the legality of the procedure, the states said.

California, New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington State , DC, all signed the amicus curiae brief.


This state’s prosecutors, in the normal and ordinary exercise of their prosecutorial discretion, will not question the judgments and decisions of affected health care professionals.

–Lawyer Daniel Bower


Lawyers representing the State of Idaho and the Idaho Legislature argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe v. Wade gave states the right to determine if or how abortions would be handled, and that the state law, dubbed Law 622, poses no risk to patients or providers.

“The government’s image of a conflict between (the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act) and Statue 622 is fabricated and false, with no basis in fact,” attorney Daniel Bower wrote for the legislature.

The treatment of an ectopic pregnancy is not actually an abortion, and therefore is not prohibited by state prohibition, the legislature argues. Abortions performed to save the mother’s life will not be affected by law, Bower wrote, and any other emergency abortions that might be affected are extremely rare.

When they happen, the doctors will not be prosecuted, Bower wrote in the brief.

“Attorneys in this state, in the normal and ordinary exercise of their prosecutorial discretion, will not question the judgments and decisions of affected medical professionals,” Bower said.

Contributor: Hannah Schoenbaum

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