Federal Judge Rejects Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Idaho Law Voiding Pregnant Women’s Living Wills

Outcome of Suit Could Have Repercussions for Similar Laws in Nine Other States
November 8, 2019

(Boise, Idaho – Nov. 8, 2019) A federal court today rejected a motion by State of Idaho defendants to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state statute that invalidates a person’s advance directive if they have been diagnosed as pregnant. The Court determined that the Plaintiffs may proceed with their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statute. 

The lawsuit, Almerico et al. v. State of Idaho et al, was filed in May 2018 by Compassion & Choices and Legal Voice on behalf of four Idaho women. The outcome of the suit could have repercussions for similar laws in nine states: Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Washington repealed a similar law in the 1980s.

Idaho’s Medical Consent and Natural Death Act recognizes: “…the fundamental right of competent persons to control the decisions relating to the rendering of their medical care, including the decision to have life-sustaining procedures withheld or withdrawn.” But the law states that if a person has “been diagnosed as pregnant, this Directive shall have no force during the course of [their] pregnancy.”

This law disregards a person’s wishes for the care they want or do not want to receive. For this reason, Compassion & Choices and Legal Voice argue that Idaho’s law violates people’s constitutional rights to legal equality and to direct their own medical care.

All four plaintiffs are women of childbearing age and have completed advance directives detailing their healthcare preferences if they are unable to speak for themselves. Some of their health care directives include provisions about pregnancy and some do not, reflecting their different expectations about their medical care if they become terminally ill while pregnant.

Plaintiff Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, who was pregnant with her first child when the lawsuit was filed in May 2018.

“This law is a slap in the face to every pregnant person in Idaho,” said plaintiff Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, a behavioral therapist who was pregnant with her first child when the lawsuit was filed in May 2018, but since has given birth and lives in Caldwell, Idaho. “I am thankful my baby and I both are healthy now. But the thought that my healthcare decisions in my advance directive were not guaranteed during my pregnancy is deeply offensive. My ability to make decisions didn’t change because of my pregnancy and I would not have wanted a state official dictating my family’s end-of-life care decisions.”

The other three plaintiffs are Anna Almerico, Micaela de Loyola-Carkin and Hannah Sharp, all of whom live in Boise, Idaho. The lawsuit defendants are the Idaho Secretary of State Lawrence Denney, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and the Idaho Health and Welfare Department Director Dave Jeppesen.

“Idaho’s refusal to recognize the right of all people, regardless of gender, to make decisions as to their own health care violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution,” says the plaintiffs’ complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho by the Boise office of Perkins Coie LLP. “Accordingly, Plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring unconstitutional the portion of the law that automatically invalidates a woman’s health care directive if she is diagnosed as pregnant.”

The complaint also asks the court to permanently prohibit Defendants from “nullifying otherwise valid health care directives on the basis of pregnancy” and from “stating that [health care directives] will not be enforced or otherwise considered valid during pregnancy.”

“The pregnancy exclusion is patently unconstitutional because it violates the fundamental rights to body integrity, to direct or refuse medical treatment and to equality under the law. It also violates the first amendment right to free speech,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “These rights survive throughout pregnancy and this ruling means the court takes our arguments seriously.”

“The pregnancy exclusion deprives people who can become pregnant of their fundamental right to direct their own medical care, suggesting that their decisions about their health, and when and whether to allow bodily interventions to maintain their lives, are less worthy of respect than others’ decisions,” said Kim Clark, senior attorney for Legal Voice. “The idea that the state should make these deeply personal decisions for its citizens and potentially subject a whole class of people to medical interventions against their will, offends the most sacred right of every individual to the possession and control over her own body. Worse, this demeaning treatment has no basis in medical ethics or science. Instead, it is based on gender stereotypes of women’s roles, including the capacity for pregnancy and childrearing, once used to justify laws excluding women from civic, professional, and political life.”

Compassion & Choices
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