Four women in Idaho have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law that nullifies an adult woman’s living will if she is pregnant, thereby providing no access to end-of-life rights. Their suit asserts that Idaho’s law on living wills and advance health care directives discriminates against pregnant women, preventing them from deciding on their own end-of-life medical care. Three of the four women have children, and one of them is pregnant with her second child. The fourth is pregnant with her first child.
The female plaintiffs all have executed health care directives under Idaho’s law, and while these vary depending on their individual wishes for medical intervention, all four are unable to access them under the Idaho law because “none of them specify that the directives will have no force or effect if plaintiffs have been diagnosed as pregnant,” the lawsuit states.
“Plaintiffs and all other women in Idaho of childbearing age who have executed health care directives are denied their constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection under the law because the validity of their health care directives is called into question by the pregnancy exclusion,” the lawsuit further alleges. “Unlike other people in Idaho, they face uncertainty about whether their explicit wishes about their own medical care will be honored because, if subsequent testing reveals they are pregnant, their health care directives will be rendered void and unenforceable.”
“This law blatantly discriminates against women who are pregnant, plain and simple,” Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, one of the four plaintiffs and a behavioral therapist 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 defendants named in the suit are the state, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Secretary of State Lawrence Denney and Russell Barron, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
“There isn’t anything I can do about it,” Denney said, reacting to the litigation and his inability to access available remedies. “All we’re doing is following the law as it is.”
Idaho is among ten states with similar laws, including Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. The women in the lawsuit seek a declaratory judgment that the pregnancy exclusion is unconstitutional, an injunction against its enforcement, and associated costs of filing their case.
“Pregnancy doesn’t equal loss of your civil and constitutional rights,” said Sara Ainsworth, advocacy director for Legal Voice. “It’s very important that all adults, including women of child-bearing age, have the right to direct the kind of care they want to receive should this tragic situation happen.”
Legal Voice has battled this issue before. More than thirty years ago, the advocacy group filed suit against Washington state for nullifying advance directives by pregnant women and taking away access to their rights. The judges on the state supreme court ruled against the plaintiff in 1984, indicating she didn’t have standing because she was neither pregnant nor terminally ill. However, Washington ended up repealing the law, nevertheless.