By REBECCA BOONE – Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that the Idaho Legislature can intervene in the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit seeking a total ban on abortion in Idaho, but only to present evidence emergency abortions performed in Medicaid-funded emergency rooms.

In the written ruling released Saturday, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said the interests of the Legislative Assembly are already well represented by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and Gov. Brad Little, there therefore has no legitimate reason to add another party to the trial.

The Justice Department sued Idaho last week over the state’s strict abortion ban, saying it would force doctors to violate federal medical treatment and emergency labor law, a federal law that requires anyone going to a medical facility for emergency treatment to be stabilized and treated.

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Allowing a state legislature the right to intervene in every federal matter without first proving a distinct need would allow a state to “turn into a nine-headed hydra whenever it wants,” Winmill said.

The abortion ban was signed into law in 2020 and made into ‘trigger law’, set to take effect on August 25 now that the US Supreme Court overturned its landmark ruling on abortion rights nearly half a century after Roe v. Wade.

The law criminalizes all abortions, and anyone who performs, attempts, or assists in abortions can face two to five years in prison in addition to losing their health care license. However, physicians who perform abortions to save a patient’s life, or in cases of rape or incest, may use this information as a legal defense in the criminal trial.

The Justice Department asked the judge to block the ban from taking effect while the trial continues.

In its request to intervene, the legislature asserted that the Idaho attorney general’s office would not vigorously defend the law. But Winmill dismissed those arguments, noting that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was among 20 state attorneys general who filed “friend of the court” briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Roe v. Wade should be canceled. The governor did the same, the judge pointed out.

“Governor Little has always offered his wholehearted support for overturning Roe’s decision and for a total ban on abortion in Idaho,” the judge said.

The state Legislature can present witnesses and evidence in opposition to the Justice Department’s request to suspend the abortion ban, but not in the rest of the case unless it becomes clear down the road that such intervention is necessary, Winmill said.

“There is not a shred of evidence that the interests of the state and the legislature diverge in any real and practical sense,” Winmill said.

The state has defended its abortion laws on several legal fronts. A regional affiliate of Planned Parenthood and an Idaho doctor sued the state over its three key abortion laws, including the ban that is the subject of the Justice Department’s lawsuit.

Another law allows potential parents of an embryo or fetus to sue abortion providers for at least $20,000 within four years of an abortion. Rapists cannot sue under the law, but family members of a rapist can sue.

The third is a ban criminalizing abortions performed after six weeks of gestation, except in cases where the procedure was necessary to save the life of a pregnant person or performed because of rape or incest, provided that the sexual assault was reported to law enforcement. This law comes into force on August 19.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled last week that the three laws could go into effect while Planned Parenthood’s cases move forward.

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