The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday announced it had filed a lawsuit to block the application of a legal opinion in connection with Idaho’s abortion laws. The opinion expands the state’s abortion restrictions and criminal penalties. The provision of abortion care information to women seeking the procedure outside the state is now prohibited.
The opinion, authored by Idaho Attorney General (AG) Raúl Labrador, concerns § 18-622(2) of the Idaho Criminal Code. The statute in its plain language states, criminal penalties will apply to “every person who performs or attempts to perform an abortion.” Under the AG’s interpretation, penalties extend to any person who “assists in performing or attempting to perform an abortion.” This includes supplying information to women about abortion services in other states.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU and Idaho physicians claim the interpretation is a “gross overreach into their medical practices.” Additionally, the filing parties claim the state’s ban on dissemination of abortion care information violates First Amendment rights. The claim is not without grounding. In 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit struck down a Florida law preventing medical professionals from asking patients about firearm ownership. The court stated, “the First Amendment ensures that doctors cannot be threatened with state punishment for speech even if it goes beyond diagnosis and treatment.”
However, it is unclear if the ruling applies. Idaho defines life as beginning at fertilization. The state has legislated, “preborn children have interests in life, health, and well-being that should be protected.” Considering the unborn as party to the doctor-patient relationship may impact future court decisions.
The Idaho AG’s Office has not yet responded to the suit. In January, the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the state’s near-total ban on abortion.