US judge blocks emergency abortion ban in Idaho; Texas restrictions allowed

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FILE PHOTO – Pro-abortion rights protesters take part in nationwide demonstrations after leaked Supreme Court opinion raises possibility of Roe v. Wade in Houston, Texas, on May 14, 2022. REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare

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Aug 24 (Reuters) – A federal judge on Wednesday blocked Idaho from enforcing an abortion ban when pregnant women need emergency care, a day after a judge in Texas ruled against President Joe Biden’s administration on the same matter.

The conflicting rulings came in two of the first lawsuits over Biden’s attempts to legalize abortion after the US Supreme Court ruled by a conservative majority in June’s Roe v. Wade’s 1973 law that legalized the practice nationwide.

Legal experts said the dueling decisions in Idaho and Texas, if upheld on appeal, could force the Supreme Court to reopen the debate.

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About half of U.S. states have banned abortion after Roe’s reversal, or are expected to seek to ban or restrict abortion. Those states include Idaho and Texas, which have enacted 11 other “trigger” laws prohibiting abortions based on such a decision.

Abortion is already illegal in Texas under a separate nearly 100-year-old abortion ban that went into effect following the US Supreme Court decision. Idaho’s withdrawal ban goes into effect Thursday, the same day as Texas and Tennessee.

In Idaho, US District Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed with the US Department of Justice that the abortion ban, which goes into effect Thursday, conflicts with a federal law that ensures patients can receive “stabilizing emergency care.”

Winmill, appointed to the court by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, issued an injunction preventing Idaho from enforcing its ban to the extent it violates federal law, citing threats to patients.

“One cannot imagine the anxiety and fear (a pregnant woman) will experience when her physicians feel hampered by an Idaho law that does not allow them to provide the medical care necessary to maintain their health and… to preserve their lives,” Winmill wrote.

The Justice Department has stated that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires abortion treatment in emergency situations.

“Today’s decision by the District Court for the District of Idaho ensures that women in the state of Idaho can receive the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a written statement.

“The Department of Justice will continue to use all means at its disposal to defend reproductive rights protected by federal law,” Garland said. The DOJ has said it disagrees with Texas’ ruling and is considering next legal action.

US District Judge James Wesley Hendrix ruled in the Texas case that the US Department of Health and Human Services had gone too far in issuing guidance that the same federal law guaranteed abortion treatment.

Hendrix agreed with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, that the guidance issued in July “rejects the requirement to consider the welfare of unborn children when considering how to stabilize a pregnant woman.”

Hendrix, an appointee for former President Donald Trump, said federal law is silent on what a doctor should do when there is a conflict between the health of the mother and the unborn child, and that Texas law “fills that gap.”

Hendrix issued an injunction against enforcement of HHS policies in Texas and two anti-abortion groups who also challenged them, saying the Idaho case demonstrates a risk that the Biden administration could attempt to enforce them.

Hendrix declined to issue a statewide restraining order, as Paxton wanted.

Appeals are awaited in both cases and would be heard by separate appellate courts, one in San Francisco with a reputation for being liberal and another in New Orleans known for conservative rulings.

Greer Donley, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School and an expert on abortion law, said the US Supreme Court may feel pressured to intervene if the conflicting rulings are upheld.

“Without a federal abortion, this is the kind of legal mess most people predicted,” she said.

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Edited by Grant McCool and Christopher Cushing

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nate Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on federal jurisdiction and litigation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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