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Federal appeals court temporarily restricts Idaho’s near-total abortion ban, pending review

A federal appeals court on Tuesday temporarily limited Idaho’s ability to enforce its near-total abortion ban in medical emergencies while it weighs in on a legal challenge to the ban by the Biden administration.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month allowed the state to enforce its ban, reversing a lower court order that had partially blocked it. On Tuesday, however, the full 9th Circuit said it would rehear the case with 11 of its judges, automatically voiding the panel’s order for now.

All three judges on last month’s panel were appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump. Of 28 active judges on the 9th Circuit, 15 were appointed by Democratic presidents and 13 by Republicans, though the 11-judge panel will be selected randomly.

The office of Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Idaho in 2020 passed a so-called “trigger” law that would go into effect and ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that had established a right to abortion nationwide. The law includes a narrow exception for abortions that are necessary to prevent the mother’s death.

The Supreme Court overturned Roe in June 2022.

Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration sued Idaho last August, saying the state ban conflicted with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law requiring hospitals to “stabilize” patients with emergency medical conditions.

The administration said that could potentially require abortions that would not be included under Idaho’s narrow exception for saving the mother’s life. U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix agreed, blocking the law from being enforced in cases of abortions needed to avoid putting the patient’s health in “serious jeopardy” or risking “serious impairment to bodily functions.”

The three-judge panel last month found that there was no conflict because EMTALA “does not set standards of care or specifically mandate that certain procedures, such as abortion, be offered.”

It also said that any conflict had been eliminated since Hendrix’s decision because the state legislature and state Supreme Court had since clarified the law.


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