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Federal judge blocks Attorney General from prosecuting Idaho providers for out-of-state abortion referrals

A man wearing a black suit jacket buttoned up and a blue tie with a paisley pattern on it. The background is blurred, but you can see another man with his back to the camera talking to figure of the photo.
Otto Kitsinger
/
Associated Press
Idaho's Attorney General Raúl Labrador

Idaho’s Attorney General is appealing an injunction from a federal judge saying his office can’t go after doctors who refer patients to out-of-state abortion care.

Judge Lynn Winmill issued an injunction Monday siding with Planned Parenthood and two Idaho physicians whose lawsuit argued a legal opinion written by Raúl Labrador violated providers’ First Amendment Rights.

On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood’s Rebecca Gibron said a letter Labrador sent to Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa) in March was an attempt to prevent Idahoans from accessing legal health care in other states.

“During that time, providers at Planned Parenthood were unable to give patients life saving information. And it's just unconscionable,” Gibron said.

The letter was written in response to Crane asking for clarification on the scope of the law. Crane shared it with anti-abortion clinic Stanton Healthcare, which released it publicly.

In it, Labrador wrote that under Idaho code medical professionals are prohibited 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.”

Labrador said the statute also requires a healthcare professional who “assists in performing or attempting to perform an abortion” lose their license, adding that the word “assist” means “to give support or aid.”

“An Idaho health care professional who refers a woman across state lines has given support or aid to the woman in performing or attempting to perform an abortion and has thus violated the statute,” he concluded.

Shortly after it was made public, Labrador withdrew the letter but did not disavow its content. At a hearing in April, a representative for the Attorney General argued it was meant as a private communication. Planned Parenthood argued providers still had reasons to fear prosecution and license revocation.

“I don't think that the judge was buying it in this case and recognized that there was this clear attempt to intimidate and harass and frankly, silence physicians from doing their job,” Gibron said.

In his ruling, Winmill said the state could’ve put the controversy to rest by denouncing the letter or affirmatively saying the Attorney General would not go after providers.

“Instead, the Attorney General has strained at every juncture possible to distance himself from his previous statement without committing to a new interpretation or providing any assurances to this Court or the Medical Providers,” wrote Winmill.

“Attorney General Labrador’s targeted silence is deafening," the judge wrote in the 60-page decision.

In an email, Beth Cahill, a representative for the Idaho Attorney General's Office, said Labrador’s office strongly disagrees with the order, writing “Judge Winmill wants to restrain a power we don’t possess.”

The Attorney General filed to overturn the ruling on Tuesday.

As the Canyon County reporter, I cover the Latina/o/x communities and agricultural hub of the Treasure Valley. I’m super invested in local journalism and social equity, and very grateful to be working in Idaho.

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