Idaho court rejects lawsuit aimed at blocking abortion ban

Idaho’s constitution does not implicitly establish abortion as a fundamental right, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday as it dismissed a series of lawsuits brought by Planned Parenthood.

The ruling was a blow to those fighting Idaho laws that took effect in August, including one that criminalizes all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, except to save a pregnant person’s life or because of rape or incest.

“This is a dark day for the state of Idaho. But our fight is far from over, Rebecca Gibron, executive director of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood and a family doctor filed three lawsuits against the governor and leaders of the Legislature in an attempt to block new abortion bans. One of the laws allows potential family members of a fetus to sue a health care provider who performs an abortion. Another made it a crime for medical professionals to perform an abortion after electrical activity is detected. And a third effectively banned all abortions, but allowed doctors to defend themselves in court by proving the abortion was done to save the life of their patient.

The Idaho Supreme Court heard arguments for all the lawsuits in a joint hearing last year. Thursday’s ruling applied to all three cases.

Planned Parenthood argued the laws violate constitutional principles such as equal protection and due process, the Supreme Court justices noted.

But a majority of the justices said in the ruling that the state constitution provides no fundamental right to abortion.

“Since Idaho achieved statehood in 1890, this Court has repeatedly and steadfastly interpreted the Idaho Constitution based on the plain and ordinary meaning of the text,” the justices said.

If they took the plunge and concluded that the document implicitly protected abortion rights, the Constitution would “effectively be superseded by the voice of a select few who sit on this Court,” the justices maintained.

Idaho Supreme Court Justices Colleen Zahn and John Stegner dissented from the majority opinion. Zahn said, “Idaho’s constitution did not freeze rights as they existed in 1890.”

“We should look to Idaho’s history and traditions to determine citizens’ intent, but not be locked into examining those rights only according to the circumstances in which they existed around 1890,” Zahn wrote.

In his dissent, Stegner noted the impact pregnancy has on women, saying the majority opinion “robs Idaho women of their most basic rights.”

“Idaho women have a fundamental right to abortion because pregnancy — and whether that pregnancy can be terminated — has a profound effect on pregnant women’s inalienable right to liberty, as well as their rights to life and safety,” Stegner wrote.

The Idaho bans have increased pressure on abortion facilities in neighboring Oregon, where abortion rights are protected.

In South Carolina, the state Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a ban on abortion after heart activity is detected, ruling that the restriction violates the state’s constitutional right to privacy.

The South Carolina court said the state has the authority to limit the right to privacy that protects a woman from state interference in her decision, but any limitation must allow a woman sufficient time to determine that she is pregnant and “take reasonable steps to terminate the pregnancy.”

The Idaho Supreme Court said the case was narrowly focused.

“All we decide today is that the Idaho Constitution, as it stands, does not include a fundamental right to abortion,” Judge Robyn Brody wrote in the majority opinion.

Brody said Idaho’s new anti-abortion laws are “rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in protecting fetal life before birth at all stages of development.”

The Idaho laws came about after the US Supreme Court last year overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, which guaranteed the right to abortion under the US Constitution.

A narrow portion of one of Idaho’s abortion bans has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge in a separate case.

Abortion opponents applauded the Idaho court’s decision.

“Today is a great day for precious preborn babies in Idaho,” said Blaine Conzatti, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center, a conservative Christian policy research and education organization.

Planned Parenthood said the court’s ruling will especially affect people who already face the greatest barriers to health care because of a legacy of racism and discrimination, including people of color, low-income people, immigrants and others.

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