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‘Unclear’ language in Idaho’s abortion trigger law causes confusion

Idaho State Capitol
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 18:32:58-04

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Attorney General’s office expects Idaho's trigger law, banning most abortions, to take effect later this summer.

The law, passed by the Idaho Legislature in 2020, makes providing most abortions a felony in the Gem State. With little bill text compared to other legislation, the language of the bill is causing some confusion.

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“Under Idaho statute, there is an exception where a doctor feels in good faith that the mother’s life or health could be at risk,” University of Idaho law professor Shaakirrah Sanders said.

Idaho’s trigger law bans most abortions, but it does contain a few exceptions for rape, incest, or where the mother's life is at risk. But Sanders said that part about the mother's health is unclear.

“That language hasn’t exactly been interpreted in terms of what is the scope of the doctor’s determination on that,” she said. “With regards to that exception for health and life, if the danger would be self-harm than no ability to obtain an abortion and where there are instances of rape and incest, it has been to reported to law enforcement.”

Another question Sanders raised — could the mother, or another party, challenge a doctor’s judgment call?

“If the doctor decides that the abortion is necessary, it's very much unclear whether this, under this other new civil statute, you can challenge that doctor’s decisions either before that abortion is performed or after,” she said.

The law is expected to go into effect later this summer, but it is already facing at least one legal challenge.

Planned Parenthood and an abortion provider in Idaho filed a lawsuit in the Idaho Supreme Court Monday against the state’s trigger ban on abortions.

Related: Planned Parenthood files new lawsuit to block Idaho's trigger abortion ban

The lawsuit states the ban violates Idahoan's rights to privacy and equal protection under the Idaho constitution. It also claims the language within Idaho's trigger law terms is too vague and that medical providers will be unable to know exactly when they can or can not provide abortion services without facing penalties.