US Justice Dept sues Idaho to protect abortion access

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The US Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to protect abortion access, its first litigation since the Supreme Court struck down the legal guarantees for the procedure.

The suit against Idaho seeks to compel the conservative western state to provide abortions to women suffering medical emergencies at hospitals which receive Medicare funding from the government.

Idaho is one of a number of states imposing a near-total ban on abortion after the Supreme Court in June overturned the landmark 1973 "Roe v. Wade" decision enshrining a woman's right to an abortion.

Democratic President Joe Biden condemned the Supreme Court ruling and has pledged to do everything within his power to ensure access to abortion.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the suit is designed to protect the rights of women to access emergency medical care guaranteed by federal law.

The Justice Department said an Idaho law that is to take effect on August 25 conflicts with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) passed by Congress.

EMTALA allows for an abortion in situations where the procedure is a "necessary stabilizing treatment for an emergency medical condition."

The Justice Department said the Idaho law provides no defense for medical providers who conduct an abortion necessary to protect the health of a pregnant woman.

"We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that pregnant women get the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law," Garland said. "And we will closely scrutinize state abortion laws to ensure that they comply with federal law."

The attorney general said the suit is not "going around the Supreme Court."

"The Supreme Court said that each state can make its own decisions with respect to abortion," he said. "But so too can the federal government."

Garland noted that under what's known as the supremecy clause in the Constitution, "federal law invalidates state laws that are in direct contradiction."

About two dozen of the 50 US states have passed or are moving to approve near-total bans on abortion following the Supreme Court decision.

Voters were heading to the polls in the midwestern state of Kansas on Tuesday to weigh in on the first major ballot on abortion since the Supreme Court ended the national right to the procedure.

Kansans are deciding whether to remove the right to terminate a pregnancy from the traditionally conservative state's constitution.

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