Idaho AG files new brief asking judge to lift block on state’s pro-life law

The office of Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador has filed a brief in U.S. District Court with new arguments in the lawsuit brought on by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that sought an injunction against the state’s pro-life law.

In the new brief, Deputy Attorney General Steven Olsen argues that based on the Idaho Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow the pro-life law to be enforced, the preliminary injunction blocking the state from prosecuting doctors who commit abortions in emergencies should be lifted.

The lawsuit was originally filed in August 2022 following the fall of Roe v. Wade and just weeks prior to the scheduled enactment of Idaho’s trigger law, which restricts abortion to cases in which a woman’s life is at risk or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

The DOJ argues that the law is in violation of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). EMTALA requires hospitals that receive federal Medicare funds to provide necessary stabilizing treatment to patients who arrive in the emergency room during a medical emergency. The DOJ argues that this puts women in danger as doctors in an emergency would not be able to commit life-saving abortions. However, induced abortion — in which a child is intentionally killed — is never a solution to a medical emergency. Early delivery that does not intentionally end the life of a child is not an induced abortion; treatments for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages are also not considered induced abortions.

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Federal judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that part of the trigger law could not be enforced, prohibiting the state from prosecuting anyone who commits an abortion in the event of a medical emergency, until the lawsuit is resolved.

The case reached the Idaho Supreme Court, and in January, that court upheld the pro-life law and the civil enforcement law that allows abortionists to be sued by immediate and extended family members, stating that it found no right to abortion in the state constitution. In the 3-2 ruling, the court determined that state laws protecting preborn babies from fertilization as well as from first detectable heartbeat (also known as “cardiac activity”) are constitutional.

Justice Robyn Brody explained, “The relevant history and traditions of Idaho show abortion was viewed as an immoral act and treated as a crime. Thus, we cannot conclude the framers and adopters of the Inalienable Rights Clause intended to implicitly protect abortion as a fundamental right.”

Olsen explained in the new brief that in its ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court redefined the section of the Idaho Code that prohibits most abortions while allowing for affirmative defense for abortions committed due to rape, incest, and risk to the life of the mother. Therefore, argues Olsen, the preliminary injunction blocking the law should be lifted as the case continues, according to the Idaho Statesman.

“Under what is now known to be the authoritative interpretation of Idaho law, this court’s preliminary injunction decision would come out differently,” Olsen wrote. He argued that the affirmative defense for doctors does not promote delays in health care or worsen patient outcomes, and that the Idaho Supreme Court’s ruling that ectopic pregnancy treatments and treatment for “non-viable pregnancies” (when the preborn child has stopped developing) do not meet the state definition of abortion, meaning there is no conflict between EMTALA and the Idaho pro-life law, despite the DOJ’s claims.

“The Idaho Supreme Court’s decision renders essential parts of this court’s preliminary injunction order unsupportable, and as a result, this court should deny the preliminary injunction that the United States seeks,” Olsen wrote.

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