August 29, 2022

Idaho Trigger Law Partially Blocked by Federal Judge

US District Judge B. Lunn Winmill issued a ruling on August 24 to block Idaho from enforcing part of its trigger law banning most abortions.

The ruling blocks Idaho from using the trigger law to prosecute anyone who performs what the law defines as "abortion" if the mother was experiencing an emergency medical situation. Enforcement will be paused until the lawsuit from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is resolved.

Idaho's trigger law makes it a felony for a physician to commit an abortion. This would be punishable by up to five years in prison. The law includes exceptions for rape, incest, and saving the mother's life. To defend themselves from prosecution in cases of rape and incest, physicians can use a police report provided by the mother or a guardian.

The DOJ filed a lawsuit challenging Idaho's law under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). That law requires physicians to provide life-saving care in emergency circumstances, and the Biden administration argues that this can include abortion. Pro-life advocates and physicians often argue that pre-term delivery is safer and faster than abortion in emergency circumstances, even if it still results in the child's death. The issue in this lawsuit stems from the trigger law's definition of abortion, which might include that method of ending a pregnancy.

Idaho defines abortion as “the use of any means to intentionally terminate the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman with knowledge that the termination by those means will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of the unborn child.” Some treatments that other states don't consider to be abortions, such as emergency preterm delivery and the removal of ectopic pregnancies, could be defined as abortion under this definition. While physicians could still defend themselves if they argue that the action was required to save the mother's life, the DOJ could argue that the law's unclear definition of abortion conflicts with that defense.