Idaho Supreme Court Tosses Challenges to Three Pro-Life Laws

Anti-abortion supporters rallied at the Capitol during the California March for Life held
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

The Idaho Supreme Court tossed out challenges to three pro-life laws late last week, ruling the state constitution does not guarantee a right to an abortion. 

In a 3-2 decision released on January 5, the state’s high court ruled against Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky in three lawsuits the pro-abortion organization brought against the Idaho for three pro-life laws that went into effect in August. One law allows the family members of the unborn child to sue a health care professional who performs an abortion, one is a bill that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and another bans all abortions but allows doctors to defend themselves in court by showing they performed the abortion to save the life of the mother. The Idaho Supreme Court heard arguments for all three lawsuits in a joint hearing in 2022. 

In the majority opinion, Justice Robyn Brody wrote that the state constitution must be interpreted “based on the plain and ordinary meaning of its text, as intended by those who framed and adopted the provision at issue.” 

“That is our duty as the judicial branch: to sustain the rule of law—not to promote our personal policy preferences,” Brody wrote.

“We conclude that the Total Abortion Ban, 6-Week Ban, and Civil Liability Law each pass the familiar test for determining the constitutionality of most legislation: “rational-basis” review. Under that form of review, each of these laws is constitutional because it is rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in protecting prenatal fetal life at all stages of development, and in protecting the health and safety of the mother,” she continued. “Importantly, the questions of whether a law passes constitutional muster—and whether a law is good policy—are distinct. In the challenges Petitioners bring today, we can only judge these laws—as demanded by the constitutional principle of separation of powers—based on their constitutionality, not on whether they are wise policy.”

Protesters stand in front of the Idaho Supreme Court building in downtown Boise, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, where oral arguments regarding abortion related laws passed by the Idaho Legislature were being heard. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Brody also rebutted the dissenting opinions from Justice Colleen Zahn and Justice John Stegner. Stenger’s opinion that the court create a right to an abortion “goes far beyond the holding of Roe v. Wade,” Brody replied. Brody also rejected Zahn’s opinion that “the meaning of Idaho’s Constitution must change with the times,” as well as Zahn’s speculation about more strict abortion legislation in the future. 

“Both dissents also raise the specter that if the Court were to interpret our Constitution as containing no fundamental right to abortion, a future legislature may eliminate all affirmative defenses and exceptions,” Brody wrote. “What the legislature might do in the future does not drive our decisions. We issue opinions based on actual cases and controversies that come before us today—not the hypothetical fears of tomorrow.”

Rebecca Gibron, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, lamented the ruling, according to a statement published in the Associated Press. 

“This is a dark day for the state of Idaho. But our fight is far from over,” Gibron said. 

To the contrary, President of Idaho Family Policy Center Blaine Conzatti, a conservative Christian policy research and educational organization, praised the ruling. 

“Today is a great day for precious preborn babies in Idaho,” Conzatti said, according to the report. 

On the same day as the Idaho Supreme Court’s ruling, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state’s fetal heartbeat law is unconstitutional because it violates the state constitution’s privacy protections.

“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,” Justice Kaye Hearn wrote in the the lead opinion.

“Six weeks is, quite simply, not a reasonable period of time for these two things to occur, and therefore the Act violates our state Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable invasions of privacy,” she continued.

The case is Planned Parenthood Great Northwest v. Idaho, Nos. 49615, 49817, and 49899 in the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho. 


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