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Washington state and others weigh in against Idaho’s abortion ‘travel ban’

(The Center Square) – Washington state’s attorney general is among 20 attorneys general to have filed legal arguments in a federal lawsuit challenging Idaho’s law that makes it illegal to either obtain abortion pills for a minor or to help them leave the state for an abortion without their parents’ knowledge and consent. 

In a Tuesday news release, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the collective states’ amicus brief is in support of a lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court against Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador. The plaintiffs allege that Labrador’s interpretation of the law threatens to punish medical providers and residents outside Idaho’s borders for giving information and assistance to minors about legal abortion access in their states.

The initial case was brought by attorney Lourdes Matsumoto of Nampa, Idaho, along with the Northwest Abortion Action Fund and Indigenous Idaho Alliance. Ferguson said the 22-page amicus, or friend of the court, brief urges the federal court to immediately block Idaho’s so-called abortion “travel ban” through a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction pending further legal review.

A hearing date was not immediately specified.

The lawsuit follows enactment of House Bill 242, passed by Idaho’s Republican-led legislature and signed on April 6 by Republican Gov. Brad Little. The measure went into effect in May.

Ferguson said the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to travel between states and that “Idaho’s radical Legislature cannot abolish that right.”

“Washington vigorously supports those challenging Idaho’s patently cruel and unconstitutional law restricting travel for abortions,” Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said in the news release.

Inslee said Idaho’s law “places Idahoan youth in grave danger, and unlawfully infringes on every person’s First Amendment rights to free speech and to travel freely between states’ borders.”

Calling Idaho’s law “repugnant,” Inslee said he told Little in an April 4 letter that Washington state “will continue to harbor and comfort all Idahoans who seek health care services that are denied to them in Idaho.”

Little said his state’s law does not prohibit interstate travel or block an adult from receiving an abortion elsewhere.

The law makes it illegal for a non-parent to “recruit, harbor or transport” a minor for an abortion, deeming such an action unlawful trafficking. Violations are considered felonies punishable by a prison term of 2 to 5 years.

In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, ruling that individual states – not the federal government – should decide the “basic legality” of abortion. The decision overturned the high court’s long-standing ruling in Roe v. Wade issued in 1973.

In the wake of Dobbs, a number of states with Republican-majority legislatures have enacted more-restrictive measures and conservative Idaho has a near-total ban on abortion at all stages of pregnancy.

But plaintiffs supporting the legal challenge to Idaho’s law, including the West Coast states of Washington, Oregon and California, have signaled they are safe havens for abortion care and providers.

The court brief filed by Ferguson and supporting states acknowledged that Idaho has the legal right to enact public health laws within its borders, but argued it cannot prevent its citizens from learning about or accessing legal health care outside those borders and Idaho should not be allowed to criminalize legal conduct in other states.

Ferguson was joined by attorneys general from 19 other states and territories in the lawsuit: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Rhode Island.

The attorneys general claim they face “grave harm” from Idaho’s law and many are “already flooded with Idahoans seeking abortion care.”

“Washington clinics reported an unprecedented 75% increase in Idaho patients between January 2022 and early 2023,” Ferguson’s office said in its news release. “For example, Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Pullman reported that 62% of its patients were from Idaho in June 2022 — the same month the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The next month, Idahoans made up nearly 80% of its patients. Pullman is just eight miles from the Idaho border.

“Other states bordering Idaho have seen similar increases in Idaho patients.”


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