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Biden Administration Oversteps Its Authority in Lawsuit Against Idaho

The Biden administration is manipulating a federal law to override the will of Idaho voters.
Gabriella McIntyre
A pregnant mother and her daughter smile at each other

Just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, the Biden administration vowed to “protect and expand access to abortion.” As the administration’s lawsuit against the state of Idaho shows, it will stop at nothing in its quest to achieve that goal.

Why is the Biden administration suing Idaho? Because its legislature passed a pro-life law. And the administration is going after Idaho by rewriting a federal statute—a law that includes explicit protections for the “unborn child”—to require abortions.

In essence, the Biden administration is trying to use one pro-life law to invalidate another.

Twisting federal law

The federal law at issue is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). Passed by Congress in 1986, the law has a simple goal: ensure that emergency rooms don’t turn away patients who are unable to pay for medical treatment.

You may be wondering how such a law has anything to do with abortion. The answer is that it doesn’t. The law’s purpose is to provide care for everyone, including pregnant mothers and—significantly—their “unborn child[ren],” as mentioned four times in the law.

But the Biden administration is trying to turn EMTALA into a federal abortion mandate. In an act of raw executive power, the administration is insisting it can override Idaho’s law that protects the lives of women and their unborn children.

Though EMTALA has been in place for nearly four decades, the Biden administration has just now discovered this new interpretation. And if EMTALA means what the federal government is insisting it means, it would invalidate the laws of more than 20 states. This radical reinterpretation is nothing more than a reckless disregard for the law.

Punishing Idaho for protecting life

One of the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was that states became free to pass laws empowering women and protecting life. “It is time to heed the Constitution,” the Court ruled, “and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

But the Biden administration is attempting an end-run around that decision by misusing decades-old federal law to manufacture an abortion mandate from thin air.

Remember EMTALA’s purpose: to ensure that patients aren’t turned away from emergency rooms. The law was not designed to mandate standards of care. That power is left up to the states, as the Supreme Court has affirmed. States have the primary authority to regulate the practice of medicine. EMTALA is perfectly consistent with that jurisprudence.

Furthermore, EMTALA itself stipulates that it does not impose a federal “standard of care” that would supersede state law. Congress has recognized that the Medicare Act, which includes EMTALA, “shall [not] be construed” to interfere with “the practice of medicine or the manner in which medical services are provided.”

Congress and the courts agree that the point of EMTALA is not to supersede state law—especially when the state’s law shares its goal of preserving every life.

Time to hold the federal government accountable

The Biden administration must not be allowed to get away with such a brazen power grab—misinterpreting federal law to go after a state.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, assisted by attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom and the law firm Cooper & Kirk, is standing up to defend his state’s law and hold the federal government accountable.

The Biden administration has no authority to override the will of Idahoans. And it certainly has no business manipulating federal law to do so. In this important case, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to make good on the promise of Dobbs: that states like Idaho can enforce their laws and protect every life.

Gabby McIntyre Headshot
Gabriella McIntyre
Legal Counsel
Gabriella McIntyre serves as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Life.