In an especially chilling move, Idaho lawmakers have directly asked hospitals in the state for their abortion records, as the state continues to escalate its war on pregnant people and health care providers. A letter from legislators in the Idaho Freedom Caucus, obtained by Northwest Public Broadcasting this week, shows Republicans questioning the accuracy of abortion data that hospitals in the state have reported to the government, as is required by state law. The letter also chillingly reminds hospitals of the penalties for failing to report abortions: a misdemeanor charge, $1,000 fine, and imprisonment for up to a year.
“Has your hospital performed any of the induced abortions that are required to be reported?” the letter asks. “If so, has your hospital been in compliance with Idaho’s induced abortion reporting law? If not, is there a reasonable explanation, and will you please provide your induced abortion data so we can make informed policy decisions?”
For the last year now, Idaho has enforced a total abortion ban—with exceptions only for life endangerment and rape—that criminalizes health care providers in violation.
The Republican lawmakers say their letter comes in response to months-old testimony from the legal counsel for the Idaho Medical Association, who spoke before the legislature in March in support of a bill to clarify the state abortion ban’s life endangerment exception. (The bill, HB 374, has since been signed into law and explicitly allows physicians to provide abortions for ectopic and molar pregnancies without the threat of criminalization.) But Idaho lawmakers now say there’s a discrepancy between claims made in this testimony and the state’s abortion reporting numbers. According to the letter, only five of Idaho’s 44 counties have reported their abortion data to the state in the past 11 years. Further, state Rep. Heather Scott (R) told NPB in a statement that “no form of induced abortion”—including for medical emergencies—is exempt from the state’s reporting laws.
The Idaho Hospital Association and Idaho Medical Association didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. But speaking to NPB, a spokesperson for the Idaho Hospital Association characterized the letter as unexpected. “It really seemed like an unusual request going around the Department of Health and Welfare to get information that is protected by state law,” they said. “Other than that, we really don’t have a comment.”
The discrepancy in abortion reporting from hospitals, alleged by Idaho Republicans, could actually be explained by a number of factors—namely, that hospitals in rural counties or hospitals with fewer resources often refer abortion-seeking patients to hospitals in larger counties. But, of course, the state’s anti-abortion lawmakers seem less interested in a logical explanation than another opportunity to intimidate, surveil, and possibly criminalize health care providers. And while Idaho’s abortion ban doesn’t explicitly criminalize abortion patients, abortion reporting laws can still put patients and pregnant people at criminal risk, too, given increasing cases of pregnancy-related criminalization.
In April, Idaho became the first state in the nation to enact a law that criminalizes so-called “abortion trafficking” (that is, helping minors cross state lines to access abortion care) as a felony punishable with up to five years in prison. The consequences of the state’s abortion ban and laws like this have been steep: In March, a hospital in a rural region of Idaho was forced to shutter its labor and delivery department after an exodus of OB/GYNs who feared that continuing to do their job in the state could land them in prison.
Per a press release that the hospital, Bonner General Health, shared with Jezebel in March, “The Idaho Legislature continues to pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care. Consequences for Idaho physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines.” And, even more alarmingly, in June, Idaho ended its maternal mortality review committee. The U.S. maintains the highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy nations, and states with more abortion restrictions have disproportionately high maternal mortality rates.