Healthcare Provider Sues Over Idaho's Strict Abortion Ban

Rebecca Boone, Associated Press

March 31, 2022

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A regional Planned Parenthood organization is suing Idaho over a new law that bans nearly all abortions by allowing potential family members of the embryo to sue abortion providers.

The law, which is based on a similar one that Texas enacted last year, was signed by Idaho Gov. Brad Little last week. At the time, the governor said he supported the anti-abortion policy but was worried the enforcement mechanism of the law would soon be "proven both unconstitutional and unwise."

Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, which operates 40 health centers across six states, filed the lawsuit with the Idaho Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, a family medicine doctor who has practiced in Idaho for nearly two decades, joined Planned Parenthood in the lawsuit. She said the abortion ban is "unconscionable and unconstitutional."

"Life is hard. It's messy and decisions about pregnancy are complicated and need to be made between a patient and their doctor without influence and direction from the government," Gustafson said. "These situations are as complex and varied as all of us ... I believe our elected officials shouldn't be involved in making these intimate and personal medical decisions."

Under the law, even extended family members like aunts and uncles of the patient seeking the abortion or the person who impregnated them could sue an abortion provider for more than $20,000 in damages. While rapists are barred from suing under the law, a rapist's relatives could sue the abortion provider.

It applies to abortions carried out any time after six weeks of pregnancy — well before many people even know they are pregnant.

If the high court doesn't intervene, the law will take effect on April 22.

"Even setting aside the fundamental right to privacy in making intimate familial decisions guaranteed by Idaho's Constitution, the bill's flaws are flagrant and many," Planned Parenthood's attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, calling the legislation an "unprecedented power grab by the Idaho Legislature."

The organization is asking the Idaho Supreme Court to stop the law from taking effect, declare it unconstitutional and order the state to pay the legal costs associated with the case.

Abortion providers in Texas have also challenged that state's ban, but they have faced several unfavorable court rulings including one earlier this month from the Texas Supreme Court that likely portends the end of the case.

During a news conference Wednesday, attorney Carrie Flaxman with Planned Parenthood Federation of America said she doesn't expect the Idaho lawsuit will meet the same fate as the Texas case. That's because Idaho's litigation laws make it clear that people can sue the state if they feel their constitutional rights have been violated. That's not the case in Texas, which has "sovereign immunity" laws that make it far more difficult to sue the state for things like personal injuries.

Idaho isn't the only Republican-controlled state to use the Texas ban as model legislation. Lawmakers in Oklahoma, where many Texas women are now seeking abortions, have pursued several anti-abortion measures this year including a Texas-style ban.

Kentucky's Legislature has also passed anti-abortion legislation, and Rebecca Gibron, the interim CEO for Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, said the organization was considering filing a lawsuit in Kentucky as well.

Gibron said that Planned Parenthood health centers would remain open in Idaho and Kentucky regardless of the result of any lawsuits, and that the organization is raising money to help patients get the financial resources they may need if they have to travel hundreds of miles to neighboring states for abortions.

"This work is now more vital than ever," Gibron said. "We want our patients to know that Planned Parenthood will always be available to them to share information, resources and help them get the care that they need."

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year in a different case out of Mississippi, which bans abortions after six weeks. That decision could decide the future of abortion rights in GOP-led states nationwide.