Idaho’s near-total ban on abortion contained a trigger that would allow it to take effect shortly after any ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning its Roe v. Wade abortion rights precedent. Because the court issued such a ruling earlier this summer, the Idaho law is set to take effect in about three weeks.
The legislation bans abortion except when necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman — but not to protect her health — or in cases of rape or incest that were previously reported to the authorities.
It allows law enforcement officials to arrest and indict a doctor whenever an abortion has been performed, regardless of the circumstances; it is up to the doctor, as a defense at trial, to prove that one of the narrow exceptions to the ban applied. As a result, critics of the law say that doctors will be afraid to perform abortions under any circumstances.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit seeks a declaration from a court that Idaho’s law is invalid if applied to situations covered by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act because the U.S. Constitution makes federal law supreme over state law where the two conflict.
“Even in dire situations that might qualify for the Idaho law’s limited ‘necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman’ affirmative defense, some providers could withhold care based on a well-founded fear of criminal prosecution,” the department’s complaint said.
It continued: “Idaho’s abortion law will therefore prevent doctors from performing abortions even when a doctor determines that abortion is the medically necessary treatment to prevent severe risk to the patient’s health and even in cases where denial of care will likely result in death for the pregnant patient.”