Several advocacy groups and a civil rights lawyer have filed a lawsuit against the office of Idaho Attorney General Ral Labrador, claiming that the law’s criminalization of the act of transporting minors across state lines for abortions is unconstitutional and too ambiguous to be enforced.
The federal complaint requests that the Idaho District Court issue a temporary injunction to prevent the law’s enforcement while the case is being litigated.
At the end of March, the Idaho Legislature approved House Bill 242, which established a new statute known as “abortion trafficking” to punish an adult who assists a juvenile in obtaining an abortion in another state or abortion-inducing medicine.
According to the legislation, an adult is guilty of a felony that carries a sentence of two to five years in jail if they intended to hide the abortion from the parents or guardians of a minor who is pregnant. According to the bill wording, the adult who helped the youngster might still face charges and raise that defense in court even if a parent or guardian gave their consent.
Except for rape and incest victims who have a police report proving the offense and who are no more than 12 weeks pregnant, Idaho has a near-total prohibition on abortions at any stage of pregnancy.
Abortion is allowed in many of the states that surround it, including Washington, Oregon, and Montana. While Oregon demands parental approval for females under the age of 14, Washington permits minors to have abortions without their parent’s consent.
The statute, which became effective on May 1, also grants the Idaho attorney general complete discretion to file charges in the event that a county prosecutor decides to do so. The bill was presented as a parental rights bill that did not impose restrictions on interstate travel by the legislators who backed it and by Gov. Brad Little, who signed it into law.
The office of Labrador has been contacted by States Newsroom for comment.
The tweet below also covered the news:
Just now: Advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against Idaho's recent "abortion trafficking" law restricting minors from interstate travel for abortion care, claiming it violates constitutionally protected rights & is too vague to be enforced. pic.twitter.com/7fT9oExuUQ
— Alanna Vagianos (@AlannaVagianos) July 11, 2023
Idaho Plaintiff Claims Law Ignores Complex Family Situations
The initial named plaintiff in the action is Lourdes Matsumoto, an attorney who helps victims of domestic and sexual violence in southwest Idaho, including juveniles. According to the complaint, Matsumoto represents pregnant victims of sexual assault as part of her job, and she claims that as a result, she feels constrained in the counsel she can provide to her clients.
“There’s a lot of fear of what they even want to tell me. I have a little bit extra protection because as their attorney we have privilege, but it’s still illegal potentially for me to tell them what they can do, it’s still potentially illegal for me to direct them to programs out of state,” Matsumoto told States Newsroom.
Matsumoto claimed that the statute does not take into account a variety of complex conditions and family structures, such as immigrant families and circumstances where a youngster resides in Idaho but their parents are abroad, where parents may be violent or otherwise absent.
“We try to reach communities that have been traditionally marginalized, and those people are already afraid of law enforcement and seeking help,” Matsumoto said. “By the time those people reach out and trust one individual, one adult, that’s a huge step. So if you are not able to be trusted, the whole community is going to go backwards, and they’ll go back and tell their community it’s not a safe place.”
Plaintiff Northwest Abortion Access Fund provides financial help and transportation to individuals in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska who require abortion treatment. In the past year, the fund’s volunteers and employees allegedly helped 768 persons in those states, 166 of whom were residents of Idaho, including children.
Tai Simpson, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, is the executive director of the nonprofit Indigenous Idaho Alliance, which is the third plaintiff. Simpson and other alliance members have helped pregnant people, including minors from Idaho, receive abortion treatment. According to the lawsuit, the alliance and the abortion access fund both want to keep helping minors but are concerned about being charged with trafficking because of this.
Law, Claims Complaint, Violates Fundamental Rights
Legal Voice attorney Wendy Heipt, Idaho-based attorney Wendy Olson, and lawyers from The Lawyering Project all represent the groups. Dedicated to promoting gender parity, Legal Voice is a group established in Seattle.
Heipt claimed that individuals from the community who are employed in Idaho have contacted Legal Voice in recent months seeking guidance on how to comply with the law.
“Our belief is that although this lawsuit is targeting adults, it’s actually restricting minors, and if this is allowed to stand, they will move to adults,” Heipt told States Newsroom. “What’s important is that people understand once they start infringing on your basic rights as a U.S. citizen because someone disagrees with what you’re doing, there’s no end to it. That is a pretty slippery slope.”
The rule, which forbids getting an abortion by “recruiting, harboring, or transporting” a minor, restricts freedom of speech, the ability to travel, and the right to freely associate, the complaint claims.
“(The statute) criminalizes only speech that supports those seeking abortion care,” the complaint reads. “The government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content,” according to the First Amendment.
These considerations, according to Matsumoto, are the reason why the law is about more than just a person’s moral or ethical views on abortion or the necessity of an abortion ban.
These are highly troublesome concerns that limit people’s rights, she added if the word “abortion” is removed. That isn’t getting the attention it merits, in my opinion.
The case will continue in Idaho District Court in the upcoming weeks under the supervision of District Judge Debora K. Grasham.
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