Judge allows lawsuit that challenges Idaho’s broad abortion ban to move forward

Dec 29, 2023, 4:48 PM

Jennifer Adkins and her husband, John, from Caldwell, Idaho talk to the media outside the Ada Count...

Jennifer Adkins and her husband, John, from Caldwell, Idaho talk to the media outside the Ada County Courthouse Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023 in Boise, Idaho. The two are plaintiffs in a case concerning access to abortive care in Idaho. An attorney for Idaho asked a judge on Thursday to throw out a lawsuit seeking clarity about the medical exemptions to the state's broad abortion bans, saying it was based on hypothetical situations rather than current facts. (AP Photo/Kyle Green)

(AP Photo/Kyle Green)

An Idaho judge on Friday denied a request by the state’s top legal chief to throw out a lawsuit seeking to clarify the exemptions tucked inside the state’s broad abortion ban.

Instead, 4th District Judge Jason Scott narrowed the case to focus only on the circumstances where an abortion would be allowed and whether abortion care in emergency situations applies to Idaho’s state constitutional right to enjoy and defend life and the right to secure safety.

Scott’s decision comes just two weeks after a hearing where Idaho’s Attorney General Raul Labrador’s office attempted to dismiss the case spearheaded by four women and several physicians, who filed the case earlier this year.

Similar lawsuits are playing out around the nation, with some of them, like Idaho’s, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of doctors and pregnant people who were denied access to abortions while facing serious pregnancy complications.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Idaho’s Constitution entitles its residents to certain fundamental rights, but a sweeping abortion ban poses a risk to those rights.

Labrador’s office countered that the Idaho Supreme Court has already upheld the state’s abortion bans — thus solving any lingering questions on the matter.

Scott agreed in part with the state attorneys that the state Supreme Court ruled there was no fundamental right to abortion inside the state constitution, but added that the court didn’t reject “every conceivable as applied challenge that might be made in a future case.”

“We’re grateful the court saw through the state’s callous attempt to ignore the pain and suffering their laws are causing Idahoans,” said Gail Deady, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Now the state of Idaho will be forced to answer to these women in a court of law.”

Meanwhile, the Idaho judge also sided with the attorney general in removing Gov. Brad Little, Labrador, and the Idaho Board of Medicine as named defendants in the lawsuit — leaving the state of Idaho as the only remaining defendant. Scott called the long list of defendants as “redundant,” saying that all three would be subject to whatever is ultimately decided in the lawsuit.

“This is only the beginning of this litigation, but the Attorney General is encouraged by this ruling,” Labrador’s office said in a statement. “He has long held that the named defendants were simply inappropriate, and that our legislatively passed laws do not violate the Idaho Constitution by narrowly limiting abortions or interfering with a doctor’s right to practice medicine.”

The four women named in the case were all denied abortions in Idaho after learning they were pregnant with fetuses that were unlikely to go to term or survive birth, and that the pregnancies also put them at risk of serious medical complications. All four traveled to Oregon or Washington for the procedures.

Idaho has several abortion bans, but notably Idaho lawmakers approved a ban as a trigger law in March of 2020, before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

At the time, any suggestion that the ban could harm pregnant people was quickly brushed off by the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Todd Lakey, who said during one debate that the health of the mother “weighs less, yes, than the life of the child.”

The trigger ban took effect in 2022. Since then, Idaho’s roster of obstetricians and other pregnancy-related specialists has been shrinking.

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Judge allows lawsuit that challenges Idaho’s broad abortion ban to move forward