US abortion: Healthcare providers in Idaho can refer patients for abortions out of state, rules judge
The judge agreed with Planned Parenthood who said banning doctors from out-of-state abortion referrals would have a “chilling” effect on their right to freedom of speech
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Judge B Lynn Winmill decided it would violate the free speech rights of doctors in Idaho if they were prosecuted for out-of-state referrals - disagreeing with Republican Party attorney general Raul Labrador, who had a different interpretation of the state’s abortion ban.
Currently, it is illegal to perform or attempt to perform an abortion in Idaho, with the crime punishable by two to five years in prison. It is also unlawful for healthcare professionals to assist in the provision or attempted provision of an abortion - and those who do risk the loss of their medical licence.
Labrador interpreted this to mean that referring a patient to legal abortion services in other states would constitute “assisting” in an abortion or attempted abortion — meaning doctors should be prohibited from doing so. Planned Parenthood sued him in response, arguing that such a restriction would violate medical providers’ right to free speech under the First Amendment - and noting that doctors are not restricted from referring patients out-of-state for prenatal care treatment, for example.
And Judge Winmill agreed with Planned Parenthood that Labrador’s interpretation of Iowa’s abortion ban, which he laid out in March a letter to a conservative lawmaker, went too far.
In his order on Monday (31 July), Winmill, who was appointed during the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton, wrote that doctors “will be forced to choose between facing criminal penalties themselves and offering referrals and information about legal out-of-state medicinal services to their patients.”
He added that the court “finds that the medical providers have established there is a genuine threat of prosecution”, which has resulted in “the chilling of the medical providers’ speech – a well-established concrete injury”.
Idaho banned abortion shortly after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe Vs Wade in 2022 - removing the guaranteed right to abortion across the country and mandating a prison sentence of two to five years for a convicted provider.
Following the law change, healthcare professionals who are charged with performing an illegal abortion can only overcome jailtime by proving the abortion was necessary to save the patient’s life - or by showing evidence that the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest that was reported to the police or a health organisation.
In the year since, various states have pushed ahead with anti-abortion legislation. In July, lawmakers in Iowa voted to ban most abortions after six weeks - a time before the majority of women know they are pregnant.