Judge to hear arguments in Idaho abortion provider lawsuit

The hearing is set for June 6
Posted at 4:34 AM, May 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-06 07:20:58-04

BOISE, Idaho — A federal judge will hear arguments next week on whether to dismiss a lawsuit over Idaho laws restricting who can provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest and Hawaiian Islands sued late last year, contending that Idaho's laws barring nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and other advanced-practice clinicians from performing first-trimester abortions puts an undue burden on women seeking the procedure.

Similar physician-only laws are also on the books in 33 other states. In addition to the Idaho lawsuit, Planned Parenthood is challenging physician-only laws in Virginia, Maine, Wisconsin and Arizona.

It comes as half a dozen Republican-dominant states have passed near total bans on the procedure.

In the Idaho lawsuit, Planned Parenthood attorneys say state law allows advanced-practice clinicians to do many of the same tasks as doctors, including diagnosing patients, prescribing medicine and carrying out complex medical procedures like delivering babies, inserting IUDs and performing endometrial biopsies.

They're also allowed to carry out medical procedures designed to remove non-viable fetal tissue when a woman is having a miscarriage — also known as a "spontaneous abortions" by medical professionals — but they can't do the same procedure if a woman is seeking an abortion, according to the lawsuit.

"These onerous burdens far outweigh the law's nonexistent health justification," Nicole Hancock, the attorney representing Planned Parenthood, wrote in the lawsuit.

The organization is the largest provider of reproductive health services in Idaho, with three health centers in Ada and Twin Falls counties. Planned Parenthood officials note that their doctors have limited availability, and that leaves women seeking abortion care with significant and expensive travel burdens, sometimes delaying their access to the procedure and sometimes preventing it altogether.

The Idaho attorney general's office contends there's no undue burden on a woman's access to abortions because anyone seeking the procedure can simply go to a doctor instead of a clinician. State attorneys say it's not Idaho's fault that Planned Parenthood doctors are only available to schedule abortions a few days a week because the rest of their time is tied up with other obligations.

"States have no duty to take actions to ensure that women can perfectly exercise, or even fully realize, all of the advantages associated with the right to an abortion," wrote Cynthia Yee-Wallace and Megan Larrondo, both deputy attorney generals. "Nor must states guarantee that abortion is conveniently available."

The hearing is set for June 6 in Boise's U.S. District Court.