US judge blocks Idaho emergency abortion ban; Texas Restrictions Allowed

FILE PHOTO – Abortion rights protesters take part in nationwide protests following the leak of the Supreme Court’s opinion suggesting the possibility of overturning the Roe v. Wade on abortion rights, in Houston, Texas, U.S., 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 women with pregnancy complications require emergency care, a day after a Texas judge ruled against administration of President Joe Biden on the same issue.

The conflicting rulings came in two of the first lawsuits involving the Democratic administration’s attempts to ease abortion access after the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the Roe v. Wade of 1973 which legalized the procedure nationwide.

Legal experts have said the state’s two rulings — if upheld on appeal — could force the Supreme Court back into the debate.

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About half of all US states have or should seek to ban or reduce abortions after Roe’s overthrow. Those states include Idaho and Texas, which, like 11 others, passed “trigger” laws banning abortion on such a decision.

Abortion is already illegal in Texas under a separate, nearly century-old abortion ban that recently went into effect after the US Supreme Court ruling. Idaho’s tripping ban goes into effect Thursday, the same day as in Texas and Tennessee.

In Idaho, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed with the U.S. Justice Department that the abortion ban taking effect Thursday violates a federal law that ensures patients can receive “care emergency stabilizers” in hospitals.

Winmill, an appointee of former Democratic President Bill Clinton, issued a preliminary injunction preventing Idaho from enforcing its ban as it violates federal law, citing the threat to patients.

“One cannot imagine the anxiety and fear she will feel if her doctors feel fettered by an Idaho law that does not allow them to provide the medical care necessary to preserve her health and life,” said writes Winmill. “From this perspective, the public interest clearly favors the issuance of a preliminary injunction.”

The Justice Department said the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires abortion care in emergency situations.

Winmill’s decision came after a ruling Tuesday night in Texas by U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix holding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Biden went too far in issuing guidelines that the same Federal law guaranteed abortion care.

Hendrix agreed with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, that the guidelines released in July “displace the requirement to consider the well-being of unborn children in determining how to stabilize a pregnant woman.”

Hendrix, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump, said federal law says nothing about what a doctor should do if there is a conflict between the health of the mother and that of the unborn child and that Texas law “fills that void”.

He issued an injunction barring the federal government from enforcing HHS guidelines in Texas and against two anti-abortion physician groups who also challenged it, saying the Idaho case showed a risk that the administration Biden tries to enforce it.

Hendrix, however, declined to issue a nationwide injunction as Paxton wanted, saying “the circumstances argue in favor of a specific, tailored injunction.”

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

Greer Donley, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and an expert on abortion law, said if those appeals courts upheld this week’s dueling rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court might feel compelled to step in and clarify the law.

“Without a federal abortion right, this is the type of legal chaos that most people anticipated,” she said.

Shannon Selden, an attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton who represents several medical associations supporting the Justice Department’s Idaho case, said “there is a huge cloud over doctors’ ability to provide stabilizing care to patients who have it. need”.

“The Department of Justice is trying to lift that cloud through its action in Idaho, and the court in Texas has darkened that cloud,” she said.

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nathalie Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.

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