Filed Date: March 30, 2022
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This is a case about abortion rights in Idaho. It was consolidated from three cases filed on March 30, June 27, and July 25, 2022. All three cases were filed by Planned Parenthood and an Idaho doctor, represented by private law firms. The plaintiffs sued Idaho in each case; the second and third cases also included two Idaho counties and the state boards of medicine, nursing, and pharmacy as defendants. The cases were all heard by the Idaho Supreme Court, which has original jurisdiction over cases involving urgent constitutional matters. In each case, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment and a writ of prohibition that would stop lower courts from enforcing various state laws restricting abortion on the grounds that these laws violated the Idaho Constitution and, in the latter two cases, the Idaho Human Rights Act. The plaintiffs also asked for attorney’s fees in each case. The Court consolidated the cases on August 12, 2022.
In 2020, Idaho passed a law that made all abortions felonies regardless of the stage of pregnancy, with exceptions for abortions performed to save the pregnant person’s life or in cases of rape and incest that were previously reported to the police. Anyone who performed an abortion would also lose their medical license, first temporarily and then permanently. The law had a provision preventing it from coming into effect unless and until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed state abortion restrictions.
In 2021, Idaho passed a law banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which occurs at about six weeks. The law contained exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, or incest. The law had both a criminal and a civil element: it made abortions felonies and allowed the person who had had the abortion to sue their doctor for damages. As in the previous bill, anyone who performed an abortion would also lose their medical license. Similar to the 2020 bill, this law contained a provision that prevented it from coming into effect until any U.S. appeals court ruled that it was constitutional for states to ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.
In March 2022, Idaho passed an amendment to the 2021 bill with several alterations. First, it allowed family members of the patient to also sue the doctor for performing an abortion. Second, it made the minimum damages in such a suit $20,000. Third, it made it so that the civil elements of the act would imminently come into effect, regardless of any federal court decision about abortion restrictions.
On March 30, 2022, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in reaction to the 2022 amendment. The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the law violated Idaho’s Constitution and a writ of prohibition to stop state courts from enforcing it. The plaintiffs gave several reasons for the law’s unconstitutionality. First, they argued the law contradicted the separation of powers by essentially giving private citizens, rather than the state executive, the ability to enforce the abortion ban. Second, it violated a constitutional provision against arbitrary or unreasonable laws affecting state courts. Third, it violated people’s right to keep their medical information private. Fourth, its use of civil suits to enforce the ban, as well as its lack of specificity about damages, violated due process. Fifth, it violated the right to equal protection by specifically harming abortion providers. Finally, it violated people’s rights to due process and privacy by preventing them from making their own decisions on personal family matters.
The Court initially ordered the case to be expedited, but Idaho filed a motion to reconsider the order and have a slower briefing schedule. On April 8, 2022, the Court granted Idaho’s motion and placed a stay on the abortion law before it came into effect, which both parties had asked for. However, Idaho claimed that they had not wanted the stay and filed a motion to vacate it, which the Court denied.
The second lawsuit was filed on June 27, 2022, a few days after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed states to pass laws restricting abortion. This meant Idaho’s 2020 law banning all abortions would soon come into effect. The plaintiffs filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the law violated Idaho’s Constitution and the state’s Human Rights Act. They also asked for a writ of prohibition to stop the law from being enforced by lower courts, law enforcement, and licensing boards. Alternatively, they asked for the court to stay the law before it came into effect while the case was ongoing.
The plaintiffs supported their claims with three arguments. First, the law violated people’s privacy rights by preventing them from making decisions on personal family matters. Second, it violated the right to equal protection and the Human Rights Act by discriminating against women. Third, it violated people’s due process rights because it was too vague.
The third lawsuit was filed on July 25, 2022, after a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective v. Governor of Georgia, which allowed a law in Georgia to come into effect that banned abortion after a fetal heartbeat was detected. This meant the criminal provisions of the 2021 Idaho law would soon come into effect. The plaintiffs filed this suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the law violated Idaho’s Constitution and the Idaho Human Rights Act, as well as a writ of prohibition to stop the law from being enforced by lower courts, law enforcement, and licensing boards. Alternatively, they asked for the court to stay the law before it came into effect while the case was ongoing. The plaintiffs argued, as in their second lawsuit, that the abortion ban violated people’s right to privacy, equal protection, and due process.
On August 12, 2022, after oral argument, the Court consolidated the three cases and ruled on two questions: whether its previous stay on the 2022 civil amendment should remain in place while the case was heard, and whether it should issue a new stay against the 2020 criminal ban. 2022 WL 3335696. The Court ruled against the plaintiffs on both issues, eliminating the old stay and declining to enter a new one. In order for the Court to issue a stay, the plaintiffs would have had to show they were very likely to eventually win the case. In the case against the 2020 criminal ban, the Court held that the plaintiffs had not shown they would clearly succeed because the Idaho Constitution does not clearly protect the right to abortion, as abortion was illegal in the state for a long time before Roe v. Wade had made it legal. Since the plaintiff’s argument that the Constitution implicitly protected abortion rights was complex and would require a novel interpretation of the state Constitution, the Court held that the issue was unclear enough that it would be better decided during the case itself rather than on a preliminary basis. According to the Court, the plaintiffs’ other claims, such as the argument that the law was too vague, were also complicated enough that the plaintiffs would not clearly win.
Furthermore, the Court eliminated the stay on the 2022 civil amendment because the plaintiff’s core claim in that case had been that it contradicted the separation of powers by giving private citizens, rather than the state’s executive, the ability to enforce the law. Since the full law would come into effect after the SisterSong decision, the executive would also be capable of enforcing the law through the criminal system, eliminating the separation of powers issue.
As of November 2022, the case is ongoing.
Micah Pollens-Dempsey (11/13/2022)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:39 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: Idaho
Filing Date: March 30, 2022
Case Ongoing: Yes
Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai'i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky and an Idaho doctor.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Special Case Type(s):
Prevailing Party: None Yet / None
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Order Duration: 2022 - 2022
Content of Injunction:
Affected Sex or Gender: