Idaho Abortion Ban Restricted In Court As Judge Sides With Biden Administration


Idaho’s abortion “trigger ban” will still allow physicians to provide abortions in response to all medical emergencies when it takes effect on Thursday, as a federal judge sided with the Biden Administration on Wednesday in its lawsuit against the policy and temporarily blocked the ban as it applies to abortions when the pregnant person’s health is at risk.

Key Facts

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a preliminary injunction that blocks Idaho’s abortion law as the lawsuit moves forward, but only as the ban applies to abortions performed during medical emergencies.

The Biden Administration sued Idaho over the law earlier in August, alleging it conflicts with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), as the Idaho law only allows abortions when the pregnant person’s life is at risk, but EMTALA requires hospitals to provide medical care even when the person’s health is at risk, but it’s not life-threatening.

Winmill sided with the federal government in a 39-page opinion, writing that the case is “not about the bygone constitutional right to an abortion,” but is instead about the conflict between Idaho’s abortion law and the federal EMTALA statute—and according to the Constitution, federal law trumps state law when the two are at odds, Winmill wrote.

Winmill had signaled during a hearing on Monday he was likely to side with the Biden Administration and believed the state law conflicted with EMTALA, noting that doctors “are going to be forced to navigate their way around this conflict” and pushing back against the attorney for the Idaho legislature, who argued prosecutors would not be “stupid” enough to actually sue medical providers over medical emergencies.

Chief Critic

Idaho had argued that its law did not actually conflict with EMTALA, and accused the Biden Administration of “wielding its substantial financial clout under the Medicare program to invalidate” the state’s right to regulate abortion. (EMTALA applies specifically to hospitals that participate in Medicare.) “Rather than awaiting an actual instance of supposed conflict, (the administration) asks this Court for broad injunctive relief that far exceeds what settled legal principles countenance,” the state argued in a court filing.

Key Background

Idaho’s trigger law is one of more than a dozen that have taken effect or been set to take effect in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and is one of three set to start being enforced this week, along with bans in Tennessee and Texas. The impact of abortion bans on pregnant patients’ health and medical care has been a major source of concern as the laws have taken effect, as numerous reports have emerged of patients being denied care even when facing complications as physicians face the threat of criminal prosecution. The Biden Administration issued guidance to healthcare providers directing them to perform abortions under EMTALA even if it conflicts with their state’s abortion law, part of the White House’s broader response to the Supreme Court’s ruling and new wave of abortion bans.


Winmill’s ruling came hours after a federal judge in Texas ruled against the Biden Administration on EMTALA, blocking its guidance directing healthcare providers to perform abortions when required under the law even if it conflicts with a state-level ban. That ruling only applies to Texas and physicians who belong to two anti-abortion medical groups, however, so it wouldn’t affect Winmill’s decision or block doctors in Idaho from still having to comply with the federal guidelines.

What To Watch For

The Idaho lawsuit marked the first lawsuit the Biden Administration has brought against state abortion bans, but it likely won’t be the last. Reuters reports the administration is planning a legal strategy that involves litigation over alleged EMTALA violations, as with the Idaho suit, as well as potentially taking action against states that have banned medication abortion, arguing that conflicts with the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of abortion pills.

Further Reading

Judge Signals He’ll Likely Side With Biden Administration On Idaho Abortion Ban (Forbes)

Biden Administration Sues Idaho Over Abortion Ban (Forbes)

Court Blocks Biden Administration Guidance Requiring Abortions During Medical Emergencies—At Least In Texas (Forbes)