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Why did Planned Parenthood sue Idaho 3 times? Understand the challenges to abortion laws

Aug. 2, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 2, 2022 at 8:52 p.m.

Hundreds of pro-abortion supporters gather May 14 in Riverfront Park for a “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally that was organized the Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Hundreds of pro-abortion supporters gather May 14 in Riverfront Park for a “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally that was organized the Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Nicole Blanchard Idaho Statesman

The Idaho Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments on two of the three abortion-related lawsuits filed by Planned Parenthood in the past several months.

The hearing will decide whether the case stays in the Supreme Court, whether the court puts a hold on two abortion laws set to go into effect this month, and whether the two cases should be consolidated into one.

Planned Parenthood filed its third lawsuit challenging Idaho abortion laws last week. The organization has petitioned the court to include the third case in the Wednesday hearing, but by Tuesday afternoon the request had not been granted, according to documents available on the Supreme Court website.

The lawsuits address different Idaho laws that would restrict or ban abortion in the state. Here’s a breakdown of each case:

Senate Bill 1309: Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky filed its first lawsuit on March 30, a week after Gov. Brad Little signed SB 1309. The law, which was modeled after similar legislation in Texas, would allow some family members of a fetus to sue a health care provider who performs an abortion for a minimum of $20,000.

The law would apply when an abortion is performed after what lawmakers called a “fetal heartbeat” – and what medical professionals have said is better described as electrical activity – is detected. That typically occurs around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.

In signing the bill, Little expressed concerns that it might violate the state’s constitution. Indeed, the Idaho attorney general’s office said in a legal opinion before the Legislature approved the bill that it would be open to legal challenges.

Planned Parenthood has argued that the law undermines executive authority granted to the governor’s office and violates Idahoans’ right to privacy.

In April, the Idaho Supreme Court put a stay on the legislation, preventing it from going into effect until the court case is resolved.

Abortion trigger law: Days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned landmark abortion cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Planned Parenthood filed its second lawsuit in Idaho’s Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision set off an Idaho “trigger law” that enacts a near-total ban on abortion in the event that states regained the right to regulate abortion. The law allows for exceptions only in instances when a pregnancy puts the mother’s life at risk or when the pregnancy resulted from an instance of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement.

Planned Parenthood argued that the abortion ban violates Idaho residents’ right to privacy, violates the Idaho Human Rights Act by treating men and women differently, and violates the Idaho Constitution’s due process clause.

The ban is set to go into effect Aug. 25. Planned Parenthood has asked the Idaho Supreme Court to pause the law’s implementation pending the outcome of the court case.

The justices on Wednesday will decide whether to consolidate the trigger law and SB 1309 cases, whether to send the cases to a lower court, and whether to halt the trigger law.

The Justice Department, however, sued the state of Idaho on Tuesday afternoon to halt implementation of a “trigger” ban outlawing abortions beginning Aug. 25.

“Fetal heartbeat” law: Planned Parenthood filed its third abortion-related lawsuit last week over the state’s “fetal heartbeat” law. The law would make it a felony for medical professionals to perform an abortion after electrical activity is detected.

The law, passed last year, includes a trigger that prevents it from going into effect until a similar “heartbeat” law is upheld in a U.S. appellate court. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a fetal heartbeat-related law in Georgia. Planned Parenthood said it filed the lawsuit in anticipation of Idaho’s law being triggered.

While the overall trigger law would supersede the fetal heartbeat law, Planned Parenthood said in court documents that it challenged the less restrictive law separately in the event that the overall ban is stayed, or found unconstitutional. It argued that the fetal heartbeat bill, like the total abortion ban, violates privacy, the Idaho Human Rights Act and the Idaho Constitution’s due process clause.

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