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Judge blocks part of Idaho’s new abortion law in first post-Roe lawsuit by the Biden administration

The preliminary injunction on a specific provision comes after the Justice Department sued to halt the state’s near-total ban on abortion, arguing that it violates federal law.

A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked part of Idaho’s strict abortion law that's scheduled to take effect Thursday, handing the Biden administration a narrow courtroom win in its first lawsuit to protect reproductive rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill prevents Idaho from enforcing the new law when it conflicts with federal guidance about emergency abortion care in hospitals.

“The State of Idaho will not suffer any real harm if the Court issues the modest preliminary injunction the United States is requesting,” Winmill wrote.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the lawsuit against Idaho this month, arguing that the state’s law conflicted with a federal statute known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, which was enacted in 1986 to ensure patients receive adequate emergency medical care.

That law requires doctors to provide the emergency medical treatment necessary to stabilize anyone who comes into an emergency room. “This includes abortion, when that is the necessary treatment,” Garland said at the time.

In a statement, Garland said the judge's ruling would protect a woman's ability to obtain the emergency medical treatment she needs as guaranteed by federal law, which "includes abortion when that is the necessary treatment."

"As the District Court ruled, a state law that attempts to prevent a hospital from fulfilling its obligations under EMTALA violates federal law and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution," Garland said.

Madison Hardy, a spokesperson for Idaho Gov. Brad Little, responded to a request for comment with a statement Thursday saying, "The attempts by Biden’s DOJ to target Idaho and meddle in a matter clearly delegated to the state — and a federal judge’s decision temporarily carving out a very narrow exception — do not change the fact that Idaho’s pro-life law prohibiting elective abortions is moving forward.”

Winmill heard arguments on the Justice Department’s request for a preliminary injunction Monday and said he would issue a written order no later than Wednesday. The state law is still scheduled to take effect Thursday, minus the provision Winmill said the state cannot enforce for now.

While the state argued that its law did not conflict with EMTALA, Winmill found its argument was not persuasive, "because it has failed to properly account for the staggeringly broad scope of its law," which he said "criminalizes all abortions."

"It is impossible to comply with both statutes," Winmill wrote. "[W]here federal law requires the provision of care and state law criminalizes that very care, it is impossible to comply with both laws. Full stop."

The Idaho ruling came just hours after a setback for the administration in Texas, where a federal judge prohibited the state from enforcing guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services that requires hospitals to provide emergency abortions to women.

Garland said the Justice Department disagreed with that ruling and is “considering appropriate next steps.”

The court battles are unfolding as electoral politics indicate many voters are likely to make abortion a top priority in the November midterm elections.

Voters in Kansas this month overwhelmingly rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that sought to remove language guaranteeing reproductive rights.

In a special election in New York, Democrat Pat Ryan defeated Republican Marc Molinaro on Tuesday in a race where Ryan made abortion rights a key campaign issue. The congressional district in the Hudson Valley has served as a national bellwether — it voted for Biden by about 2 percentage points in 2020 after backing former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama in their successful campaigns.