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Idaho Supreme Court temporarily blocks state law banning abortions after six weeks

The court put the law on ice a week after Planned Parenthood sued the state with claims that the law was “blatantly unconstitutional.”

(CN) — Idaho’s highest court has blocked a controversial law in the state that banned medical providers from carrying out an abortion in the state after six weeks.

The two-page order released Friday evening put a temporary stay on the law, which was set to go into effect on April 22. According to the court, both parties in the case requested that the court maintain the status quo to give them more time to present their arguments. The court requested additional briefs by the end of April before the court makes its final decision.  

"We are thrilled that abortion will remain accessible in the state for now, but our fight to ensure that Idahoans can fully access their constitutionally protected rights is far from over," Rebecca Gibron, interim CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana and Kentucky, said in a statement on Friday after the order was announced.

The order arrives a week after Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health services in Idaho, petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court to halt the controversial measure after it was signed by Idaho Governor Brad Little in March.

The nonprofit claimed that the enforcement provision of the bill is unlawful on several grounds and runs afoul of the state’s prohibition on excessive and vague penalties. Like a similar bill passed in Texas that the Idaho ban was modeled after, the law forbids Idaho officials from enforcing the ban and instead relies on family members of the fetus to levy lawsuits at providers who carried out an abortion.

“SB 1309 is no ordinary civil enforcement mechanism,” the petition stated. “It is embedded in the State’s criminal code, yet it explicitly deprives the Executive of the authority to enforce the State’s prohibition. Distinct from a tort or any other civil remedy provision, which exists to remedy a wrong done specifically to an individual claimant, SB 1309 exists to dangle a carrot in front of ordinary citizens to enforce the State’s policies and preferences where the State explicitly cannot, and where some of these citizen enforcers suffer no actual harm.”

Planned Parenthood was not alone in questioning the law’s enforcement style. During the signing of the law, Little himself said that while he supports the underlying policy goal of the law, he feared the enforcement mechanism would “in short order, be proven both unconstitutional and unwise.”

While the law does not allow a rapist that caused the pregnancy to file an enforcement suit against an abortion provider, the family members of that rapist are still allowed to go to court. The law also comes with a statute of limitations twice as long as those governing wrongful death lawsuits.

Nearby states have been quick to react to the abortion ban. Oregon recently established a $15 million fund to help cover the travel costs for out-of-state patients looking to get an abortion and state officials are preparing for an influx of new patients from neighboring Idaho.

Idaho is not the only arena facing a legal battle over an abortion ban. Texas saw similar pushback against their ban when it passed last year, and this summer the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling that could upend the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.

Representatives for the Idaho Attorney General’s office did not respond to request for comment by press time Friday evening.

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