Health care providers in Idaho on Wednesday sued the state’s attorney general after he wrote in a legal opinion that the state’s abortion ban prohibits medical providers from referring patients out-of-state for abortion services.
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, a Republican, said in a two-page letter last week that the state’s near-total abortion ban “prohibits an Idaho medical provider from either referring a woman across state lines to access abortion services or prescribing abortion pills for the woman to pick up across state lines.” The letter was sent to state GOP Rep. Brent Crane in response to questions he raised to the attorney general about how far-reaching the ban is, according to the document.
After the Supreme Court gave states the green light last year to enact restrictions on abortion within their borders, opponents of the procedure began turning their attention to efforts to restrict people from obtaining an abortion in states where it’s still legal. In addition to Labrador’s new guidance, Idaho’s governor approved a law Wednesday limiting minors’ ability to travel out-of-state for an abortion.
The new lawsuit was brought against Labrador and several other state officials by Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, and two doctors in Idaho who as a result of Labrador’s letter, “have ceased having comprehensive conversations with their patients about out-of-state abortion options,” including referring them to providers outside of Idaho, according to the complaint.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that Labrador’s interpretation of the law runs afoul of several constitutional protections, including the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees.
“Labrador’s interpretation is unprecedented and amounts to a clear threat that Idaho will seek to punish individuals for speech and conduct related to abortions that take place in states where abortion is legal,” the lawsuit states.
“Moreover, his interpretation depends on the assertion that Idaho law punishes abortions performed outside of Idaho – a clear Due Process and Dormant Commerce Clause violation,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in the suit, referring to two other constitutional provisions.
The lawyers described Labrador’s legal opinion as “truly novel” and “shocking,” writing in the suit that his interpretation “risks further isolating Idaho patients by cutting them off from critical health care in other states that is legal in those states.”
Labrador’s office declined to fully comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement to CNN: “We look forward to addressing Planned Parenthood’s arguments in court.”
In his letter last week, Labrador noted that a violation of the state’s ban, including by making out-of-state referrals for abortion services, “requires the suspension of a health care professional’s license.”
“This is a five-alarm fire,” Planned Parenthood Great Northwest CEO Rebecca Gibron warned in a statement. “Banning abortion wasn’t enough for anti-abortion extremists in Idaho; they now want to ban where you go, what information you’re legally allowed to obtain, and even what health care providers can say. Attorney General Labrador’s opinion is an egregious extension of Idaho’s abortion ban. We won’t stand for it.”
On Wednesday, GOP Gov. Brad Little approved legislation that makes it much harder for minors in the state to obtain out-of-state abortions without parental consent.
The law creates an “abortion trafficking” crime that makes it illegal for adults in Idaho to assist a minor with obtaining an abortion without informing the pregnant person’s parents or guardians, including by “recruiting, harboring, or transporting the pregnant minor within this state.”
Though a parent consenting to the procedure would provide a defense to the crime, according to the law, it “shall not be an affirmative defense to a prosecution … that the abortion provider or the abortion inducing drug provider is located in another state,” meaning someone could be prosecuted in Idaho for the conduct that occurred in-state as they helped the minor receive the out-of-state abortion.