Women traveling from another state to get an abortion in Hawaii and medical professionals who do the procedure will be protected from legal punishment under an executive order signed Tuesday by Gov. David Ige.

The decision came after 14 states banned abortion in line with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that overturned Roe v. Wade. In addition, some states are seeking criminal liability for women obtaining an abortion elsewhere as well as medical providers who provide the service. The order takes immediate effect.

“We will not cooperate with any other state that tries to prosecute women who receive an abortion in Hawaii, and we will not cooperate with any other state that tries to sanction medical professionals who provide abortion in Hawaii,” Ige said at a news conference.

Governor David Ige issues executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services in Hawaii.
Gov. David Ige issued an executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services in Hawaii. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Hawaii was the first state in the country to legalize abortion in 1970, and Ige pointed out that the state’s constitution guarantees privacy and personal autonomy.

The abortion bans have prompted some women to travel elsewhere for the medical procedure, drawing threats of legal action against them and those who facilitate the procedure. Texas has imposed a so-called bounty system, allowing ordinary people to sue those involved in the abortions and receive $10,000 if their efforts are successful, according to The New York Times.

Under the executive order, state departments and agencies will refuse to provide medical records, data and billing information to states seeking to impose legal penalties on women seeking an abortion in Hawaii and medical providers performing them.

Departments also are prohibited from providing information to states asking about medical providers and family members.

Hawaii joins 14 other states in issuing executive orders that protect health care providers and women seeking abortions.

Representative Linda Ichiyama speaks during Governor Ige's press conference after issuing an executive order protecting access to reproductive health services in Hawaii.
Rep. Linda Ichiyama said the executive order also covers licensure. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

State Rep. Linda Ichiyama, a women’s legislative caucus member, said she was concerned about moves by other states to sanction or discipline health care providers who may be licensed in multiple states.

Ige designated the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to work with the physician’s board of professional licensure to consider implementing policies to ensure that medical providers are not disqualified or disciplined by the Hawaii Board of professional licensing for providing abortions in the state.

“When we have medical professional doctors and nurses that are licensed in multiple states, if they, for some reason, are sanctioned or disciplined in another state like Texas or Arkansas … that disciplinary action on their license could have affected their license and ability to practice in Hawaii,” Ichiyama said.

Dr. Reni Soon, an OB-GYN, said she has performed abortions for patients who came from Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana due to the bans in those states.

But Soon said she doubts Hawaii will see a huge influx in women flying to the islands for an abortion due to the high costs and difficulties in doing so as well as a relatively small number of clinics that perform the procedure statewide.

“We are hard to get to, and it’s expensive,” Soon said.

Dr. Reni Soon OB/GYN speaks during Governor Ige's press conference issues Executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services in Hawaii.
OB/GYN Reni Soon said she’s treated patients from states that have banned abortion. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Ige said the executive order would continue unless the new administration decided to end it.

Jen Wilber, Hawaii state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said that Ige’s executive order is critical to “safeguarding and maintaining abortion access” in the state.

“We want our providers and patients to be safe, protected and empowered to continue to provide and access abortion care throughout the entire state — no matter what,” Wilber said in an email statement. “Legal penalties or investigations from extremist and over-zealous out-of-state prosecutors have no place in the provision of safe and legal health care protected by Hawaii state law.”

Civil Beat’s health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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