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Idaho Physician Files Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of His Patients to Establish Constitutional Right to Medically Indicated Abortion Care

U.S. Constitution continues to protect the right to abortion in cases of serious medical need, even after Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022

05.14.24 (PRESS RELEASE) – Earlier today, an Idaho maternal-fetal medicine specialist filed a federal lawsuit against the state and local officials charged with enforcing Idaho’s abortion bans, arguing that abortion remains constitutionally protected when continuing a pregnancy would subject a pregnant person to serious medical risks or the pregnancy is medically futile.

Through multiple, overlapping statutes, Idaho currently criminalizes all abortion care except in some – but not all – cases where abortion is necessary to save a pregnant person’s life and some – but not all –cases where a pregnant person survived a sexual assault.  It prohibits abortion in a wide variety of circumstances where a patient’s health is in serious jeopardy or the pregnancy is not likely to result in a live birth, including when a patient needs cancer treatment, a miscarriage is inevitable, or a patient has developed hypertensive disorders that could result in organ damage, organ failure, or death.

“The health of my patients is my first priority when I’m practicing medicine,” said Stacy Seyb, MD, a plaintiff in the legal challenge.  “Idaho’s abortion bans not only threaten health care providers like me with criminal prosecution, but they jeopardize the health and lives of pregnant people throughout the state.  Because of these cruel laws, my patients have been forced to travel outside Idaho to obtain potentially life-saving health care, sometimes on an emergency basis by helicopter, further endangering their health in an already dire situation.”

Additionally, Idaho’s ban does not permit abortion when a pregnant patient is battling a serious mental health condition that puts them at-risk of death from self-harm.  Suicide and overdose are among the leading causes of death for pregnant and post-partum people in the United States.  From 2018 – 2021, when Idaho had an active maternal mortality review committee, the most common underlying cause of maternal death in Idaho was mental health conditions.

“The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade is both wrong as a matter of law and profoundly harmful to the rights and dignity of millions of people,” said Stephanie Toti, Executive Director of the Lawyering Project.  “But by its own terms, it does not extend to medically indicated abortions, which continue to be constitutionally protected.  This lawsuit aims to clarify that the state cannot interfere with the ability of pregnant Idaho residents to obtain treatment for their serious medical needs.”    

Idaho’s abortion bans have destabilized the state’s entire reproductive health care system.  More than half the state’s maternal-fetal medicine specialists have left Idaho since Roe fell, and a report found that fifty obstetrician-gynecologists have stopped practicing in the state since August 2022.  One maternal-fetal medicine specialist recounted her decision to leave Idaho after Roe fell in a recent brief to the Supreme Court.

“For almost two years Idahoans with medical concerns have been unable to get the reproductive health care they are entitled to. Legal Voice is proud to be a part of the effort to ensure that Idaho citizens with medical concerns will be able to access the treatment they need to live healthier lives,” said Kelly O’Neill, Legal Voice Lead Idaho Litigation Attorney.

Today’s legal challenge was filed by the Lawyering Project and Legal Voice on behalf of Stacy Seyb, M.D.  The Lawyering Project and Legal Voice also represent plaintiffs challenging Idaho’s measure criminalizing any adult that assists a young person in accessing an abortion with the intent to conceal the abortion from the young person’s parents.