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Idaho Supreme Court blocks new Texas-style abortion ban for now

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The Idaho Supreme Court has temporarily blocked implementation of the state’s new Texas-style abortion ban as it considers a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

The law, which was set to take effect April 22, would ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Family members of an aborted fetus could sue doctors who perform the procedure after that time for a minimum of $20,000.

Chief Justice Richard Bevan announced the stay late Friday afternoon as part of a move to give the state’s attorneys more time to address a challenge from a regional Planned Parenthood branch that filed the lawsuit in March.

As Boise State Public Radio reported earlier this week, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office argued in court filings that the process was moving too quickly.

After Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky filed the case March 30, the state supreme court granted its request to expedite the lawsuit. It initially gave the state about two weeks to prepare its case in writing.

Bevin’s order on Friday now gives the AG’s office until April 28 to file its response.

“Patients across Idaho can breathe a sigh of relief tonight,” Rebecca Gibron, interim CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, said in a statement.

Gibron said abortions at Idaho’s three Planned Parenthood clinics will continue for now.

Gov. Brad Little signed the bill into law March 23, though with several reservations.

In a letter explaining his decision, Little wrote he fears the civil enforcement mechanism in the bill will be proven “unconstitutional and unwise” “in short order.”

“Deputizing private citizens to levy hefty monetary fines on the exercise of a disfavored but judicially recognized constitutional right for the purpose of evading court review undermines our constitutional form of government and weakens our collective liberties,” Little wrote.

If that strategy is constitutional, he said he worries “California, New York and other states hostile to the First and Second Amendments” will use the same methods to target religious freedoms and the right to bear arms.

While Idaho’s law shares a similar civil enforcement mechanism to Texas’s statute, it doesn’t go as far. Anyone who “aids or abets” an illegal abortion in Texas – like an Uber driver – could be sued by anyone, regardless of whether they live in the state.

Idaho’s law does allow for abortions in the case of rape or incest, though Little noted in his letter that the circumstances for getting such an exception could be incredibly difficult.

Police reports authenticating these allegations aren’t immediately available to victims, which he says renders the exceptions “meaningless for many.”

“Ultimately, this legislation risks retraumatizing victims by affording monetary [incentives] to wrongdoers and family members of rapists,” he wrote.

Doctors who perform abortions after six weeks could also face additional criminal penalties following a federal appeals court decision finding a similar law from another state to be constitutional.

The term “heartbeat” is contested by medical professionals who testified against the bill in March. Valves in the heart must open and close to pump blood throughout the body to be considered a heartbeat, they said.

What can be detected via a transvaginal ultrasound at about six weeks of pregnancy, when a fetus is the size of a bean, is “cardiac activity,” they said.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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