Idaho’s strict abortion bans will be allowed to take effect while legal challenges over the laws play out in court, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled on Friday.
A doctor and a regional Planned Parenthood affiliate sued the state earlier this year over three anti-abortion laws, all of which were designed to take effect this year now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade.
Under the ruling, a near-total criminalizing of all abortions — but allowing doctors to defend themselves at trial by claiming the abortion was done to save the pregnant person’s life — will take effect Aug. 25.
Read more: U.S. sues Idaho over abortion ban, citing need to treat ‘medical emergencies’
Another law is also going into effect that allows potential relatives of an embryo or fetus to sue abortion providers for up to $20,000 within four years of an abortion. Rapists cannot sue under the law, but a rapists’ family members would be able to sue.
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Planned Parenthood has also sued over a third strict ban criminalizing abortions done after six weeks of gestation except for in cases where it was needed to save a pregnant person’s life or done because of rape or incest. That law was set to take effect Aug. 19.
Dr. Caitlin Gustafson and Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky filed three lawsuits over each of the laws. The Idaho Supreme Court consolidated those cases into one as part of Friday’s ruling.
Planned Parenthood and the doctor failed to show that allowing enforcement of the laws would cause “irreparable harm,” the Idaho Supreme Court found. The high court said the plaintiffs also didn’t have evidence that they had a “clear right” to a remedy, or that they were likely to win on the merits of the case.
“What Petitioners are asking this court to ultimately do is to declare a right to abortion under the Idaho Constitution when — on its face — there is none,” the court wrote.
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The complexity of the arguments are likely to break new legal ground in the state, the high court found. The majority of justices said that meant the issues shouldn’t be decided until the case plays out in full — a process that can take months or longer.
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“In short, given the legal history of Idaho, we cannot simply infer such a right exists absent Roe without breaking new legal ground, which should only occur after the matter is finally submitted on the merits,” the court wrote.
During oral arguments in the case last week, an attorney for Planned Parenthood and Gustafson told the high court that the abortion bans’ exceptions for saving a patient’s life are so vague that they are impossible to follow.
“That language gives no indication of how imminent, or substantial, the risk of death must be in order for a provider to feel confident” performing the abortion, said Alan Schoenfeld. “Suppose a patient with pulmonary hypertension has a 30 to 50% risk of dying — is that enough?”
But attorneys representing the state of Idaho and the Legislature told the court that abortion has historically been outlawed in Idaho since statehood.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
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