NC Attorney General Josh Stein among 24 AGs urging Supreme Court to put Idaho abortion law on pause

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, the Democratic nominee for governor, joined calls for the Supreme Court to pause an Idaho abortion law that could ban abortion in cases of non-lethal medical emergencies.

On Friday, Stein’s office announced that he was among 24 attorneys general to file a friend-of-the-court brief urging the United States Supreme Court to uphold a temporary hold on an abortion law in Idaho while the case is litigated. A friend-of-the-court brief is a document written by someone who is not directly involved in a legal case but has expertise to offer the court to aid in decision-making.

An Idaho trigger law, titled the Defense of Life Act, went into effect with the repeal of Roe v. Wade in 2022, the State of Idaho said in a document filed in Supreme Court. The law bans most abortions except in cases of rape or incest or when “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman,” per state statute.

Two weeks after the law went into effect, in August 2022, Pres. Joe Biden’s administration sued the State of Idaho, arguing that the law violates the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

EMTALA, which applies to all U.S. hospitals that have an emergency department and participate in Medicare, requires emergency rooms to provide any patient who has an “emergency medical condition” with the treatment they need to stabilize their condition. According to the Department of Justice, “’emergency medical conditions’ … include not just conditions that present risks to life but also those that place a patient’s ‘health’ in ‘serious jeopardy’ or risk ‘serious impairment to bodily functions’ or ‘serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.’” While Idaho law allows abortions to save a patient’s life, it does not explicitly allow abortions to protect patients from non-lethal conditions or injury.

“Federal law is clear: patients have the right to stabilizing hospital emergency room care no matter where they live,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Women should not have to be near death to get care. The Department of Health and Human Services will continue its work with the Department of Justice to enforce federal law protecting access to health care, including abortions.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador responded, “Despite the portrayal by the media and the Biden administration, both Idaho law and EMTALA share a consistent goal: to protect everyone’s life, including unborn children. Idaho law is perfectly consistent with EMTALA, which provides explicit protections for ‘unborn children’ in four separate places. The notion that EMTALA requires doctors to perform abortions is absurd. We are asking the Supreme Court to end the administration’s unlawful overreach and to respect the people of Idaho’s decision to protect life.”

An Idaho federal judge granted a pause on the law in August 2022, pending the results of the DOJ lawsuit, until a federal appeals court lifted that ruling, allowing the law to take effect while the case is in litigation, in September 2023.

In January, the Supreme Court sided with the state in forgoing the pause. The justices are set to hear arguments in April.

Now, Stein, as well as 23 other attorneys general, are backing the Biden administration’s argument. The attorneys general are calling for the court to uphold the injunction.

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“If a woman’s life or health is at risk, it’s imperative that she get the emergency medical care she needs,” Stein said in a statement. “Abortion care is medical care, and hospitals must continue to provide it.”       

The brief was cosigned by the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Stein has been a longtime and vocal supporter of abortion access. On his campaign website, he touts having joined a similar brief defending the legality of medication abortion, suing “to defend public health providers that offer abortion care, like Planned Parenthood, from attempts to cut off their access to public health grants” and opposing legislation to limit abortion coverage in health plans. His gubernatorial campaign received an endorsement from Reproductive Freedom for All, a nonprofit that advocates for expanding access to abortion and birth control.

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