Idaho asks US Supreme Court to allow near-total abortion ban

By John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Idaho officials on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily halt a federal judge’s ruling that blocked the Republican-governed state from enforcing its near-total abortion ban in medical-emergency situations following a legal challenge by Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration.

Republican state officials urged the justices to pause U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s August 2022 preliminary injunction issued after he concluded that the state’s abortion restrictions conflicted with a federal law that ensures that patients can receive emergency “stabilizing care.”

Idaho’s Republican attorney general and top Republican state lawmakers in court papers told the Supreme Court that Winmill’s ruling has permitted “an ongoing violation of both Idaho’s sovereignty and its traditional police power over medical practice.”

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority in June 2022 overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that had recognized a woman’s right under the U.S. Constitution to terminate her pregnancy. That ruling set in motion a series of new abortion restrictions imposed by Republican-led states.

In Idaho, a so-called “trigger” law banning abortion that was passed by the Republican-led state legislature and signed by a Republican governor in 2020 automatically took effect upon Roe being overturned. Idaho’s law, known as the Defense of Life Act, bans all abortions except in instances in which an abortion is found to be necessary to prevent the mother’s death.

Following the Roe reversal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under Biden’s direction issued federal guidance stating that a 1986 U.S. law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires hospitals to “stabilize” patients with emergency medical conditions, takes precedence over state abortion bans.

The Biden administration sued Idaho over its trigger law in August 2022, arguing that the measure conflicted with the 1986 law because the federal statute could potentially require abortions that would not be included under Idaho’s narrow exception for saving the mother’s life.

Winmill that month agreed, blocking the Idaho law from being enforced in cases of abortions needed to avoid putting the woman’s health in “serious jeopardy” or risking “serious impairment to bodily functions.”

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September agreed to let Idaho enforce its ban amid an appeal. But the full 9th Circuit this month reversed the panel’s ruling, granting the Biden administration’s request to block the Idaho law while the appeal proceeds.

The administration has waged a similar legal fight in Texas, where U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix in August 2022 preliminarily blocked the federal government from requiring healthcare providers to perform abortions for emergency room patients when it would conflict with a Republican-backed Texas abortion ban.

The administration is appealing that ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

(Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham)