Idaho’s battle: between law and life at the Supreme Court

By District 1 Congressional candidate Kaylee Peterson

Kaylee Peterson
Kaylee Peterson

Idaho women are carrying around the weight of a unique kind of fear and anger right now. Dobb’s shadow looms large over every facet of our lives in the Gem State, like an oppressive monolith towering over and defining every moment, from scheduling appointments to family planning, from birth to death.

While women face an endless scourge against their bodily autonomy, Representative Russ Fulcher demonstrated his indifference on the front steps of the Supreme Court as opening arguments began in Moyle v. United States. Idaho continues to defend one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, arguing that EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act) does not protect physicians who provide constitutionally protected life-saving measures… at least not if treating a pregnant patient.

Russ Fulcher contends that his Democratic colleagues are trying to abuse EMTALA, which he argues doesn’t mention or include terminating a pregnancy, treating abortion as a singular concept, disregarding its complexity and situational nuances. Perhaps Idaho’s Congressman just doesn’t understand that pregnancy is a deadly condition; if pregnancy was a profession in America, it would be the sixth most dangerous in the nation.

Unfortunately, it seems increasingly likely that the Representative from District One is wholly unbothered by the pleas of women, families, and healthcare professionals across the state.

Today, Idaho’s abortion laws are so restrictive that they test the limits of the First Amendment, threatening those who even discuss abortion, so it took great bravery for our emergency doctors and healthcare providers to step forward this month and beg Idaho Legislators to clarify the law. Idaho’s trigger laws don’t allow for fatal fetal anomaly exceptions. This means that a fetus that develops without a spine, a skull, or necessary organs to survive must be carried to term unless the mother faces certain death, certain immediate death.

However, with trigger happy legislators and special interest groups eager to make a litigation-ridden example out of an unsuspecting doctor or mother, the line between life and death is a blurry one. If a woman presents with an ectopic pregnancy, a deadly condition in which a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus, she must wait until her vitals plummet and her reproductive future is bleak before doctors can act. If a woman’s pregnancy is deemed unviable, she will undoubtedly face sepsis or any number of more horrific fates before receiving care. Under current laws, a mother’s best case scenario is facing a traumatic delivery, the worst case scenario means losing her life in the process.

Despite this, legislators continue to ignore the harsh reality that more than 25% of pregnancies in the U.S. end in miscarriage, a number that experts estimate is much higher.

During the last two years as I have traveled the state of Idaho, I have heard firsthand the countless, painful moments recounted by Idaho women who experienced loss pre-Roe, the unbearable torture of being told their belly full of promise would never be, and being forced to carry their broken dreams around each day, the agony of deciding whether to tell each
well-meaning well wisher of their loss or forcing a smile and suffering alone in deafening silence. I’ve heard women in their seventies stifle their tears as they recalled the earth shattering pain of

an ectopic pregnancy, describing the blinding pain and terror as their insides burst and they fought for their lives. These stories are uniquely painful, but unfortunately all too familiar, and as these laws take hold, they are becoming commonplace for Idaho women and families again.

If our Congressional delegation had bothered, they could have spoken with any one of the unbelievably brave women who have stepped forward to share their stories since Roe was overturned, or as any responsible elected official ought to, discussed the ramifications with Idaho’s Obstetricians, Gynecologists, or emergency room professionals.

Representative Fulcher has repeatedly told town hall audiences that the pro-choice movement supports abortion AFTER birth … you read that right, abortion after birth. The vast majority of us recognize this as what it is: a blatant lie, but some believe it, weaponizing fictional situations against Idaho women’s autonomy and right to survive.

I fear that the reason is not just dereliction of duty, but instead the kind of political theater that has plagued the halls of Congress, self-aggrandizing, nonsensical, and hyper-partisan games that value social media engagement and PAC donations over the Constitutional rights and lives of Idaho families.

Representative Russ Fulcher spoke in front of SCOTUS, just after Brandi Swindell, the CEO of Stanton Healthcare (the fake pregnancy crisis centers that set up shop next to legitimate clinics like Planned Parenthood, harassing women as they enter and providing dubious advice to pregnant women).

Fulcher claims a 100% rating with anti-choice organizations, but fails to mention his personal and professional relationship with Swindell in his speeches, as the pair were reportedly dating in the summer of 2023, and Fulcher has assisted Stanton Healthcare in their real estate dealings. This year alone, he has fought to protect tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for Stanton Healthcare, a surprising move from Fulcher who promotes himself as someone who staunchly opposes federal funding.

Representative Fulcher has voted against funding for Medicaid expansion, postpartum coverage, education, formula, infrastructure, and even veterans during his three terms in Congress. The obvious conflict of interest is difficult to ignore, and the consequences of his betrayal are immeasurable.

Idaho has lost three labor and delivery wards in the First District alone, leaving rural mothers to travel hours for basic prenatal care and depend on understaffed and unprepared emergency departments for complicated and unexpected deliveries. The Idaho State Legislature disbanded Idaho’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee, making us the ONLY state in the nation without an official entity to accurately measure and study the loss of mothers and children. Experts estimate Idaho’s already high maternal mortality rate has increased over 110%. St. Lukes recently reported that six women were air-lifted out of state for life-saving care in 2024 so far, up from just one in 2023. As a direct result of anti-choice legislation, Idaho has lost 22% of its OBGYNs, 50% of its maternal specialists, and countless young families and healthcare professionals- many of whom were born and raised in Idaho communities.

Putting aside the life and death scenarios playing out across our state, the economic impacts on our already unaffordable and inaccessible healthcare systems are enough to drive young families across the border. Doctors are recommending prenatal patients get life-flight insurance, and god forbid you need a longer trip and require a jet rather than helicopter. Those prices alone are enough to put a new family in medical bankruptcy. What should be an

emotional but simple outpatient procedure has become a potential fight against death, legal repercussions, and financial turmoil.

While Representative Fulcher uses Idaho’s fight against Constitutional protections to grandstand and funnel federal money into his cohort’s businesses, Idaho healthcare providers (along with providers over the border in Oregon and Washington) continue to try and mitigate the damage, doing what they can to save Idahoans’ lives while risking criminal prosecution and avoiding HIPAA violations resulting from record requests by special interest groups and the Freedom Caucus.

While Fulcher postures and pontificates about things he hasn’t even attempted to understand, we continue to carry fear and anger, and the burden of our leaders’ ignorance and ineptitude until our autonomy is recognized, our lives protected, and we kick the government out of our doctors offices, our hospital rooms, and our bodies.