Lawsuit filed over Idaho’s new “fetal heartbeat” abortion bill

Idaho Supreme Court

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

Planned Parenthood Great Northwest filed a lawsuit Thursday against the state over an abortion bill passed by the Idaho Legislature .

The bill would allow family members of a fetus to sue an abortion provider, regardless of the pregant woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy.  It would effectively ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion stating a court would likely find the bill unconstitutional.

In the lawsuit filed with the Idaho Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood claims the legislation is unconstitutional.

SB 1309 is an unprecedented power grab by the Idaho Legislature,” Planned Parenthood says in the complaint. “Absent this Court’s intervention, its regime will become the law on April 22, 2022, wreaking havoc on this State’s constitutional norms and the lives of its citizens. Petitioners therefore respectfully request that the law be invalidated and declared unconstitutional.”

Planned Parenthood says SB 1309 leaves them no choice but to cease providing abortions after approximately six weeks of pregnancy in Idaho, “undermining their mission to provide affordable, comprehensive reproductive health care, including to patients from underserved Idaho communities.”

In a virtual press conference Wednesday, Planned Parenthood Great Northwest interim CEO Rebecca Gibron said there will always need to be access to abortion care.

“These bans don’t stop the need for abortion care, they stop safe access,” Gibron said.

The plaintiff in the case, Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, spoke briefly at the press conference. Gustafson said she has been practicing family medicine in Idaho for 20 years. She stressed that the decisions made about reproductive health should be between a patient and a doctor. She called the legislation “unconscionable and unconstitutional.” 

“I believe our elected officials shouldn’t be involved in our intimate, personal medical decisions,” Gustafson said.

On March 23, Gov. Brad Little signed SB 1309 and a companion piece of legislation, SB 1358, but his transmittal letter criticized the bills and questioned their constitutionality.

“I also have significant concerns with the unintended consequences this legislation will have on victims of sexual assault,” Little wrote. “I appreciate the exception provided for victims of rape and incest, but the challenges and delays inherent in obtaining the requisite police report render the exception meaningless for many. I am particularly concerned for those vulnerable women and children who lack the capacity or familial support to report incest and sexual assault. Ultimately, this legislation risks retraumatizing victims by affording monetary incentives to wrongdoers and family members of rapists.” 

Planned Parenthood’s complaint also alleges that the new law will force pregnant women, particularly those who are underserved, to travel to other states for reproductive health care. It also takes issue with the possibility of providers facing civil penalties, claiming it “treats abortion providers differently from all other defendants in the state’s civil litigation process.”

The case must now go before the Idaho Supreme Court for judgment and Planned Parenthood has asked the court to make a decision before the bill would take effect on April 22. 

Oregon abortion providers are already preparing for an influx of patients from Idaho, with one clinic in Bend anticipating an increase of up to 230 percent in patients after the law takes effect, according to KTVZ.


<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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