By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
A new lawsuit filed Tuesday over the lack of medical exemptions in Idaho’s abortion law names four women who couldn’t get medical abortions in the state, two Idaho physicians and the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians.
Each of the four plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are women who wanted their pregnancies but had severe, life-threatening medical complications. The lawsuit comes from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which also filed legal actions Tuesday in Oklahoma and Tennessee, naming women who were denied medical abortion care for wanted pregnancies due to restrictive abortion laws.
The Idaho women include Jennifer Adkins, Jillaine St. Michel, Kayla Smith, and Rebecca Vincen-Brown. Physicians named as plaintiffs include Dr. Julie Lyons and Dr. Emily Corrigan, as well as the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, which represents roughly 650 Idaho doctors.
“Idaho’s abortion bans have sown confusion, fear, and chaos among the medical community, resulting in grave harm to pregnant patients whose health and safety hang in the balance across the state,” according to a copy of the Idaho lawsuit. “While Idaho’s abortion bans purport to contain ‘medical exceptions,’ these so-called exceptions simply do not function as such in practice.”
Idaho women’s concerns
Adkins was 12 weeks pregnant when she learned that her baby had only a 1% chance of survival and that continuing her pregnancy could endanger her health if she carried the pregnancy to term. She was already the mother of a 2-year-old son and did not want to die. She and her husband agreed to seek an abortion in another state, according to the complaint.
Traveling to Oregon required financial help from family, friends and an abortion fund that offered financial assistance.
Adkins spoke at a press conference Tuesday, saying she believed people needed to understand the medical consequences of Idaho’s abortion laws.
“I only wish I had been able to grieve the loss of my baby at home without all of this added heartache,” Adkins said in the press conference.
In St. Michel’s case, she learned at 20-weeks of pregnancy that the baby had severe developmental conditions.
Doctors told St. Michel and her husband that the conditions were affecting multiple organ systems, rendering the pregnancy unlikely to reach full term and survive past birth. She travelled out-of-state for an abortion because she felt it was the most compassionate care for the fetus.
In Smith’s case, she and her husband learned at 19-weeks of pregnancy that her baby had a severe heart condition where one ventricle of the heart was not developing. Doctors told her that the baby would likely not survive past birth and surgery was not a guarantee.
Smith had developed preeclampsia with her first pregnancy and was told she a 40% chance of developing it again if she continued to carry this pregnancy. The Smiths did not want the baby to suffer and decided to pursue an abortion.
In Vincen-Brown’s case, physicians told her at 16-weeks of pregnancy that there were several development problems with her pregnancy. The baby’s organs had not developed as expected, its two kidneys had fused together, there were heart and blood vessel issues in the brain. The baby had a rare condition in which a fetus has 69, instead of 46, chromosomes which typically causes death soon after birth.
“Ms. Vincen-Brown wanted to be healthy and present for her two-year-old daughter. She and her husband also wanted to have more children in the future,” according to the complaint. The couple worried about her health and decided to seek abortion in Oregon.
Dr. Emily Corrigan, an OB/GYN based in Boise, said she believes she has an ethical responsibility to advocate for her patients in need of urgent abortion care.
“In my 16-year career as an OB/GYN, I have provided care to thousands of pregnant people and routinely treat patients with pregnancy complications, including by providing abortion care. But Idaho’s vaguely worded bans have made it impossible to know whether I can provide the standard care I previously offered without facing severe punishment,” said Corrigan in a press conference Tuesday. “I regularly see patients who have been denied emergency medical care at hospitals across the state and too many are being forced to travel hundreds of miles out of state for abortions at great financial, physical, and emotional expense.”
The Idaho Academy of Family Physicians includes 656 doctors, about one-third of whom provide obstetric care.
“IAFP members are unable to provide prompt abortion care when a pregnant patient’s health is at risk due to pregnancy complications, including when a patient receives a diagnosis of a lethal fetal condition or experiences an obstetric emergency,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit outlines a variety of conditions in which a pregnant person may medically need an abortion, such as hypertension, cancer, or organ transplant patients. Other circumstances, such as intimate partner violence, mental health or substance use disorders should also be considered as unique circumstances to the patient and that person as to whether abortion could be considered part of the patient’s course of treatment, the complaint states.
The lawsuit asks the court to clarify in judgment where “at a minimum, Idaho’s abortion bans do not preclude a physician from providing abortion care where, in the physician’s good faith judgment and in consultation with the pregnant person, a pregnant person has: a medical condition or complication of pregnancy that poses a risk of infection, bleeding, or otherwise makes continuing a pregnancy unsafe for the pregnant person; a medical condition that is exacerbated by pregnancy, cannot be effectively treated during pregnancy, or requires recurrent invasive intervention; and/or a fetal condition where the fetus is unlikely to survive the pregnancy and sustain life after birth.”
Plaintiffs also ask the court to find that the Idaho Constitution protects a person’s right to abortion due to the right to treat emergent medical conditions that pose risk to their lives or health.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit filing.