State Politics

4 women sue Idaho over law that voids your living will if you're pregnant

Four Idaho women are suing to overturn state law that nullifies advance care directives for women who are pregnant.
Four Idaho women are suing to overturn state law that nullifies advance care directives for women who are pregnant.

Idaho allows people to officially state their wishes for treatment at the ends of their lives or in medical emergencies.

The legal document is called a living will, or advanced directive. It spells out whether someone who is dying or in a persistent vegetative state wants health care providers to keep them alive — unless that someone is a pregnant woman.

Under Idaho law, if a woman has a directive for end-of-life care, it becomes invalid if she is pregnant.

Four Idaho women are challenging this law, saying it violates people's constitutional rights to legal equality and to direct their own medical care. Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln of Caldwell and Anna Almerico, Micaela de Loyola-Carkin and Hannah Sharp of Boise on Thursday sued Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Health and Welfare Director Russ Barron in federal court.

Idaho’s Medical Consent and Natural Death Act provides for "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relating to the rendering of their medical care, including the decision to have life-sustaining procedures withheld or withdrawn.”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."

Two nonprofit organizations, Compassion & Choices and Legal Voice, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the four women. According to the lawsuit, "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."

All four women who sued are "of childbearing age and have completed advance directives," according to a press release announcing the lawsuit.

"This law blatantly discriminates against women who are pregnant, plain and simple," said plaintiff Gaona-Lincoln, a behavioral therapist and Democratic candidate for a District 10 House seat who is pregnant with her first child. "Of course, I hope my baby's birth goes smoothly and we both are healthy after it's over. But God forbid, if I get a terminal illness during my pregnancy, I do not want the state interfering in my family’s end-of-life care decisions."

"The state of Idaho is forcing pregnant women to receive treatment until the end of their pregnancies, regardless of their wishes in their health care directives, their physicians' instructions or recommendations, or any other circumstances," said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. "It violates the right to privacy in making medical decisions and treats women of childbearing age differently than other people by eliminating the validity of their health care directives if they are pregnant."

The lawsuits seeks a judgment declaring unconstitutional the portion of the law that automatically invalidates a woman's health care directive if she is diagnosed as pregnant. It also asks the court to permanently prohibit the state 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 state has not yet responded to the lawsuit. Thursday, Wasden spokesman Scott Graf said the Attorney General's Office does not comment on pending litigation. Idaho Secretary of State Deputy Chief Tim Hurst said the same of his office.

Cynthia Sewell is Idaho Statesman's government and investigative reporter. Contact her at (208) 377-6428, or @CynthiaSewell at Twitter.