Garland announces first DOJ lawsuit to protect abortion access

The challenge to an Idaho law is the first since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

August 2, 2022, 2:42 PM

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday announced the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho challenging its law that will take effect next month that would make it a felony to perform an abortion in all but extremely narrow circumstances.

Garland said the law violates the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) that states hospitals that receive Medicare funds are required to provide necessary treatment to patients who arrive at their emergency departments while experiencing a medical emergency.

That medical care, according to Garland and the DOJ lawsuit, could include providing an abortion.

"The suit seeks to hold invalid the state's criminal prohibition on providing abortions, as applied to women who are suffering medical emergencies," Garland said in a press conference at the Justice Department. "As detailed in our complaint, Idaho's law would make it a criminal offense for doctors to provide emergency medical treatment that federal law requires."

PHOTO: Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice, Aug. 2, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice, Aug. 2, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Garland announced that the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit seeking to block Idaho's new restrictive abortion law.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Garland said that while the law provides an exception in order 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 perform an abortion to save a woman's life," Garland said. "And that would then place the burden on the doctors that they are not criminally liable."

Garland used his press conference to put on notice other states who he says have passed restrictions on reproductive health care that similarly run afoul of federal law in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

"We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that pregnant women get the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law," Garland said. "And we will closely scrutinize state abortion laws to ensure that they comply with federal law."

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the Idaho law invalid under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause and is preempted by federal law to the extent that it conflicts with EMTALA.

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