The Justice Department filed suit against Idaho last August, arguing that the state’s tough abortion law was likely to discourage physicians from providing emergency treatment to pregnant patients who need an abortion to preserve their life or health.
U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed that the state law appeared to run afoul of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, passed in 1986.
Winmill, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the abortion ban against medical providers and hospitals in situations where the patient’s life or health is in jeopardy.
However, a 9th Circuit panel consisting of three appointees of President Donald Trump said Thursday that the Idaho Supreme Court has since clarified its interpretation of the Idaho statute, so the two laws no longer appear to be in conflict.
“The Supreme Court of Idaho clarified that the text of the exception means what it says: If a doctor subjectively believes, in his or her good faith medical judgment, that an abortion is necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman, then the exception applies,” Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote in an order joined by Judges Bridget Bade and Kenneth Lee.
The appeals court ruling does not address serious health issues that may not be life-threatening but could require an abortion. The stay is not a final decision, and the appeal is likely to be assigned to another panel for ultimate resolution.
The Justice Department could ask an 11-judge panel of the appeals court to reconsider the stay or ask the Supreme Court to step in. DOJ spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment.