Idaho’s new abortion law will affect Oregonians, too

August 17, 2023 5:30 am
Abortion doctors march in Washington D.C.

Doctors from across the U.S. march to the U.S. Capitol to protect abortion access and demand an end to the current and future criminalization of providers who perform lifesaving abortion care on November 03, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Doctors for Abortion Action)

Several times a year for many years, I have crossed the Oregon-Idaho line in each direction, usually on Interstate 84 over the Snake River bridge. In all these years, I’ve never been slowed or stopped at the border, and the only thing that might have caused such an event is the speed limit. 

These days, the notion of a checkpoint is becoming increasingly probable, prompted recently by a lawsuit, involving the state of Idaho on the one side and Oregon – plus a batch of other states, including Washington – on the other. 

The lawsuit by abortion rights advocates is aimed at Idaho’s law against “abortion trafficking,” or transporting a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion. Theoretically, an Idaho law should only affect people in that state. But in the opinion of a long list of state attorneys general, including Oregon’s, it’s not that simple. Oregon’s health care finances and professional and legal liability could be endangered due to the wording of the Idaho bill and its interpretation by that state’s attorney general.

In the last two years, Idaho abortion law has been changing and tightening, and on March 27  Attorney General Raul Labrador answered an inquiry about its scope, implicating state borders in the new legal order: “Idaho law prohibits an Idaho medical provider 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,” he wrote. There are more restrictions, including for any adult (other than parents) to help a minor cross state lines to obtain an abortion.

Labrador later withdrew the letter but hasn’t reversed any of his legal analysis. 

This drew, days later, a lawsuit from a Planned Parenthood organization and a group of physicians argued that, “the logic of Attorney General Labrador’s opinion would mean that a health care provider who provides an abortion to an Idaho resident in another state violates Idaho’s abortion ban. The lawsuit asserts that such an interpretation of a state abortion ban is both unprecedented and unconstitutional.”

That implication of other states being held accountable to Idaho’s law drew the attention of attorneys general around the country. On Aug. 2, an amicus brief drafted by Washington Attorney General Rob Ferguson, and co-signed by 19 other attorney’s general including Oregon’s Ellen Rosenblum, took aim at the Idaho law and specified harms it could do to other states, potentially affecting Oregon the most. Those could directly on Oregon. 

Rosenblum’s office has specified some of them. Her office said the Idaho abortion laws have led to a drastic increase of abortion patients in nearby states. Washington state saw a 75% increase of Idaho patients obtaining an abortion during a 12-month stretch ending earlier this year. During the first six months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe. v. Wade – during a time when some but not all of Idaho’s restrictive laws were in place – the number of abortions performed in Oregon for out-of-state residents rose nearly 50% over the same six-month period a year earlier, according to Oregon Health Authority statistics, Rosenblum said.

She said this has hurt Oregon health providers’ ability to provide normal timely health care. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in a letter to his Idaho counterpart, Brad Little, warned that Idaho’s law would likely result in an “increased mortality rate of Idahoan women and girls.”

And the attorney generals’ brief went well beyond health care impact. 

A resident of an abortion-rights state, such as Oregon or Washington, would be directly affected once they cross the border, and their health insurers would be affected too: “As the provider of health insurance for state employees and their children, who may be temporarily visiting or residing in Idaho, amici states have a direct financial interest in preventing increased risk to patients and cost of medical care resulting from undue delays or impeded continuity of care.”

Providers of health care cross-licensed across states – as many are – “would reasonably fear Idaho’s apparent reading of its laws, producing a chilling effect on the lawful provision of health care in other states. For example, a health care provider licensed in both Idaho and a neighboring state, such as Washington or Oregon, might be reluctant to provide abortion services in Washington or Oregon for fear of being subjected to licensing enforcement action in Idaho, potentially resulting in the restriction of their Idaho license or the imposition of fines.”

That, in turn, could lead to health care issues, or gaps in health care, for patients even in abortion-rights states. 

These ideas and concerns aren’t brand new. Oregon’s Legislature recognized them earlier this year when it passed the recent and highly contentious House Bill 2002 – which is aimed specifically at protecting people in Oregon from the reach of laws from other states. That legislation like Idaho’s has yet to be fully tested in court, however. When two states collide, their cases typically go to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the results can be unpredictable. 

People in many states like to think of themselves as siloed, shielded from what another state might do. But what we do tends to affect people beyond us.

Idaho’s new abortions laws ring not only for Idahoans, but for Oregonians as well. 


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Randy Stapilus

Randy Stapilus has researched and written about Northwest politics and issues since 1976 for a long list of newspapers and other publications. A former newspaper reporter and editor, and more recently an author and book publisher, he lives in Carlton.