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Idaho Supreme Court upholds state's abortion ban

By Sarah May
|
January 7, 2023

As jurisdictions across the country grapple with the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of the abortion precedent of Roe v. Wade, the Iowa Supreme Court Thursday upheld a series of state laws strictly limiting access to the procedure, as The Hill reports.

In its ruling, the state's high court determined that the Idaho constitution does not grant any right to abortion, implicitly or otherwise.

Planned Parenthood defeated

At issue in the case were three state abortion laws challenged by Planned Parenthood and which were enacted in 2020, 2021, and 2022, respectively.

The earliest of the three statutes was a so-called trigger law designed to take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court did indeed overturn Roe, and it allows abortion only if the mother's life is in danger or in cases of officially reported race or incest, according to the Washington Examiner.

Passed in 2021, the second of the three laws took the form of a ban on abortion procedures after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, and the third law was one permitting putative family members of aborted fetuses to seek damages in court.

By a margin of 3-2, the high court dismissed Planned Parenthood's challenges to the laws, in a serious setback to abortion rights advocates in the state and beyond.

Reasoning explained

In its majority opinion, the court mirrored some of the arguments contained in the U.S. Supreme Court's summer decision negating Roe, stating that abortion rights were not “deeply rooted” in the history and traditions of the state.

Writing for the majority, Justice Robyn Brody declared that when examined through that lens, “there simply is no support for a conclusion that a right to abortion was 'deeply rooted' at the time the Inalienable Rights Clause was adopted,” as The Hill noted.

“What Petitioners are asking this Court to ultimately do is to declare a right to abortion under the Idaho Constitution when – on its face – there is none,” Brody said.

The justice continued, “In fact, before Roe announced a federal constitutional right to abortion in 1973, abortion had been a long-standing criminal offense in Idaho,” an indication that the history and traditions of the state indicate that “abortion was viewed as an immoral act and treated as a crime.”

Remedies available

Brody went on to remind citizens of the state of Idaho that they are not without power to shift the landscape on this highly contentious issue, however, stating that voters are in no way precluded from “answering the deeply moral and political question of abortion at the polls.”

“For example, if the people of Idaho are dissatisfied with these new laws, they can elect new legislators,” Brody suggested. Furthermore, she insisted, “the Idaho Constitution is not immutable.”

Unsurprisingly, the outcome was met with great disappointment by Planned Parenthood, with regional organization CEO Rebecca Gibron declaring it “a dark day for the state of Idaho.”

Vowing to continue the fight, however, Gibron added, “Planned Parenthood will never back down. We will keep fighting with everything we've got to restore Idahoans' right to control our bodies and our lives.”

South Carolina ban upended

Despite the good news for pro-life forces in Idaho this week, anti-abortion advocates in South Carolina experienced a serious setback on Thursday when that state's Supreme Court struck down a six-week abortion ban that went into effect as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe, as The Hill reported separately.

By a margin of 3-2, the panel found that the state's Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act stood in violation of constitutional rights to privacy that encompass pregnancy termination decisions.

As such, abortions will remain available in South Carolina up to 20 weeks' gestation, and writing for the majority, Justice Kaye Hearn said, “The State unquestionably has the authority to limit the right of privacy that protects women from state interference with her decision, but any such limitation must be reasonable and it must be meaningful in that the time frames imposed must afford a woman sufficient time to determine she is pregnant and to take reasonable steps to terminate that pregnancy.”

Trigger bans similar to the ones litigated in the aforementioned cases were enacted in a number of other states in anticipation of last summer's landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, and those passed by the legislatures in Utah and Wyoming are currently on hold pending court challenges.