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US Supreme Court reverses landmark abortion decisions. What happens next in Idaho?

·8 min read
Sarah A. Miller/smiller@idahostatesman.com

Abortions in Idaho will be banned in most cases after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to reverse landmark abortion cases and overturn abortion rights.

The decision released Friday from the Supreme Court means Idaho’s trigger law — which is triggered if states regain the authority to prohibit abortions — likely will take effect in August, according to state officials. The law makes it a felony for any health care provider to perform or attempt to perform an abortion.

Idaho is one of more than a dozen states that have trigger laws in place. Utah and Wyoming would also outlaw the procedure, though other surrounding states, such as Oregon and Washington, have laws in place to protect a woman’s right to the procedure.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling to overturn two key abortion rights cases, 1973’s Roe v. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, said the court “finds that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition.”

The decision comes after a draft opinion was leaked and published in Politico in early May.

Idaho House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, who chairs the Idaho Democratic Party, said in a Friday morning news release that Roe v. Wade protected the state from the “most extreme positions” of Republican leaders, and now Idahoans are losing that protection.

“I never expected to see such a grave rollback of our rights in the 21st century,” Necochea said in the release. “I am shocked that young Americans just lost rights that their parents were guaranteed and for which their grandparents fought.”

Gov. Brad Little, on the other hand, celebrated the Supreme Court action.

“Today’s decision is the culmination of pro-life efforts to defend the defenseless — preborn babies who deserve protection. It also is affirmation of states’ rights, a fundamental aspect of our American government,” Little said in a news release.

Violation under Idaho law carries prison sentence

Under Idaho’s abortion law, a violation by health care professionals would carry a prison sentence of two to five years, and they would have their licenses suspended for six months on a first offense and revoked permanently upon a subsequent offense.

The license suspension also applies to providers who assist with an abortion.

The law makes an exception in the case of a pregnancy conceived through rape or incest — but it stipulates that the rape or incest must be reported to law enforcement and proof of that report submitted to the abortion provider.

According to statistics from the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, only 25% of all rapes and sexual assaults in Idaho were reported to police in 2018, the most recent year data was available.

Women who are in danger of dying due to pregnancy are another potential exception, though the law says that does not apply in instances where a health care provider believes a woman might harm or kill herself.

The statute clarifies that women who undergo abortion procedures cannot be subjected to penalty or criminal conviction.

Planned Parenthood to offer abortions ‘as long as we’re legally able to’

Idaho’s two Planned Parenthood locations — in Meridian and Twin Falls — will provide abortions for the next 30 days, or until the trigger law takes effect, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates’ Idaho State Director Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman said during a Friday press conference.

“We plan to provide abortions as long as we’re legally able to,” Katie Rodihan, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky told the Statesman by phone.

While it was expected Idaho’s trigger law would take effect in late July, state officials told the Statesman that the law may not go into effect until as late as Aug. 23.

“We really want to emphasize that our doors are open and abortion is still legal … in Idaho,” Rodihan said.

Once most abortions are outlawed, DelliCarpini-Tolman said the organization would be taking a regional approach by working with neighboring states where abortions are legal. She said the nonprofit will stay with its patients “every step of the way” by helping individuals find an appointment, connecting them with financial resources to help with the cost of traveling and making sure follow-up care is available.

DelliCarpini-Tolman said individuals in need of care should visit their local clinic or contact Planned Parenthood’s patient navigator team at 1-800-237-7526.

Boise’s Planned Parenthood location closes

The Supreme Court decision followed news that Planned Parenthood’s oldest Idaho location, in Boise, closed earlier this month.

DelliCarpini-Tolman said during a Friday afternoon press conference that the nonprofit reproductive healthcare organization doesn’t have any plans to close additional locations in Idaho.

DelliCarpini-Tolman said the Boise location’s closure allows the organization to merge resources with the Meridian location — which is only 15 miles away. The additional resources will be used toward inpatient care and patient navigators so that every patient is given “one-on-one attention,” DelliCarpini-Tolman said, as they anticipated that the Supreme Court’s decision would be “confusing and scary and complicate care.”

If the “experiment” to merge the two locations doesn’t meet patients’ needs, she said, bringing back a third health care center “is not off the table.”

The Boise location was one of five clinics to close in the region after “a comprehensive review of all of our health centers and patient needs across all six of our states,” Rodihan said.

Rodihan said the review was prompted by the court’s “likely overturning of Roe v. Wade.”

Dr. Kara Cadwallader, who is the region’s chief medical officer, told the Statesman in December that abortions make up a small fraction of the clinics’ services. Planned Parenthood also provides contraception, screening for sexually transmitted infections, family planning, breast cancer screening and other women’s medical care.

According to the most recent Idaho Department of Health and Welfare data available, 1,680 abortions were performed in Idaho in 2020.

Idaho law remains under review

The Idaho Supreme Court is poised to hear oral arguments in August over another law restricting abortion. Court spokesperson Nate Poppino told the Idaho Statesman in an email that the case remained active as of Friday morning.

The court case centers on an Idaho law passed this March that would allow certain family members to sue health care professionals who provide abortions after about six weeks, when a so-called “fetal heartbeat” is detected. Medical experts have said the heartbeat is more accurately described as electrical activity. The law would allow multiple family members to sue for a minimum of $20,000.

Planned Parenthood sued the state, arguing that the Legislature overstepped the executive branch of government, which is tasked with enforcing laws.

Gov. Brad Little expressed concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation before signing it into law. The legislation stipulates that, should the Idaho trigger law banning abortion go into effect, it would supersede criminal penalties laid out in the fetal heartbeat law. However, that provision doesn’t apply to the civil recourse in the bill, which allows families to sue providers.

Democrats decry ‘crossing out’ of human rights

Hundreds of people gathered in the Idaho Capitol on Friday, where Democratic lawmakers and candidates for office denounced conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court and Republican Idaho legislators on what they called a “somber day.”

“Republican politicians have taken away our choice to make personal medical decisions, in this case, the right to abortion,” said Terri Pickens Manweiler, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. “I have a message to the Idaho GOP supermajority, and I want it to be perfectly understood in no uncertain terms: We won’t go back.”

Speakers raised fears that the Supreme Court may eliminate other federally protected rights, such as same-sex marriage. While it’s been ruled unconstitutional, the Idaho Constitution explicitly prohibits marriage between anyone except a man and a woman.

“Today’s decision has undone the constitutional right to privacy under the 9th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution,” said House Majority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. “This right … has been the foundation for 50 years of protection from state legislators who want to control every aspect of our private lives … not just abortion, but what we do in our own bedrooms, who we love, who we marry and whether and when we have children.”

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, recalled legislation this session that removed language from Idaho code aligning the state with the Roe v. Wade decision.

“I said to them, ‘It was more than ink on paper and more than crossed out lines. It was crossing out my very human rights,’ ” Wintrow said to an energetic crowd that applauded and raised signs.

One sign read, “Can’t be trusted with a choice, but you trust me with a child.”

Democratic candidate for governor Stephen Heidt didn’t speak at the event, which was led by women. But the gubernatorial hopeful said he would have vetoed Idaho’s trigger law making abortion procedures a felony if he was governor in 2020 when it passed.

“These draconian laws completely fail the test of reasonableness and compassion,” Heidt said in a news release.

Editor’s note: This story was updated June 24 to reflect new information about when Idaho’s law will take effect.