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Judge green-lights Planned Parenthood’s case against Idaho’s abortion law

A federal judge in Idaho denied the state's request for summary judgment in a lawsuit against its abortion law Thursday, allowing the case brought by Planned Parenthood to continue.

(CN) — A federal judge in Idaho denied the state’s request for summary judgment in a lawsuit against its abortion law Thursday, allowing the case brought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands to continue.

Arguing against Idaho’s physicians-only abortion law, lawyers for Planned Parenthood say medication abortion and vacuum aspiration abortion are identical to medical procedures that advanced practice clinicians — such as nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and nurse midwives — perform to assist with miscarriages.

Restrictions on these two early abortion procedures unduly burden women’s rights to obtain abortions by constraining where they are available, violating the due process clause of Fourteenth Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Constitution, according to Planned Parenthood.

According to the lawsuit filed in 2018, only five locations statewide provided abortion care as of 2014 and two are by doctors in private practice who may not accept all patients. Ninety-five percent of Idaho counties do not have clinics that provide abortions, which can increase travel costs and delay care for women.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the state did not show that Planned Parenthood can’t prevail on the substantive due process or equal protection claims.

He also wrote that the state failed to establish a rational connection between its goal of advancing maternal health and distinguishing treatments that advanced practice clinicians can provide for miscarriages versus abortions. Rather, miscarriage care has been shown to be more medically challenging and of greater risk to patients than early abortion.

Mary Stark, a plaintiff in the case and family nurse practitioner for Planned Parenthood, performs medication and abortion services to patients in Washington and Oregon and other services to Idaho patients. She said in a statement at the time the lawsuit was filed that “my qualifications to provide an abortion don’t disappear when I cross the border into Idaho, but this law keeps me from being able to provide the care I was trained to do.”

The office of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden declined to comment on Winmill’s decision and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands could not immediately be reached for an interview.

The Idaho case continues as the Justice Department urges a federal judge to block Texas’ near-total ban on abortion, which was enacted in early September, arguing it is an attack on the constitutional right to an abortion. The novel law has so far prevented legal challenges from abortion providers by deputizing private citizens to sue violators rather than enforcing it through government entities.

“A state may not ban abortions at six weeks. Texas knew this, but it wanted a six-week ban anyway, so the state resorted to an unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice that was designed to scare abortion providers and others who might help women exercise their constitutional rights,” Justice Department attorney Brian Netter told the court, according to The Associated Press.

At least one Texas abortion provider has admitted to violating the law and been sued — but by former attorneys in Illinois and Arkansas who say they hope a judge will invalidate the law, according to the Associated Press.

In April, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed a a similar heartbeat ban into law, but it will not go into effect until a federal appeals court upholds another heartbeat ban.

The Supreme Court previously denied an emergency motion to block the law using the shadow docket, which allows the high court to rule on issues without going through the traditional appeals channels or allowing for oral argument. Chief Justice John Roberts, siding with the court’s liberals, called the law “not only unusual but unprecedented.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in another critical abortion case on Dec. 1, with Mississippi’s attempt to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The Mississippi law seeks to ban most abortions after 15 weeks.

Initially enacted in 2018, it was blocked by a federal court challenge. The state’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, remains open and offers abortions up to 16 weeks of pregnancy, according to The Associated Press. About 100 abortions a year are done after the 15th week, the providers said.

With the beginning of a new Supreme Court term on Monday, most justices will return to the courtroom for oral arguments for the first time in 18 months while Justice Brett Kavanaugh participates remotely due to contracting Covid-19, according to the Associated Press.

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