Idaho Bill Would Restrict Interstate Travel For Abortion | HuffPost Latest News
Idaho already has some of the most extreme abortion restrictions on the books, with nearly all abortions banned in the state and an affirmative defense law that essentially asserts any doctor who provides an abortion is guilty until proven innocent. And now Idaho Republicans have set their sights on hindering certain residents from traveling out of state to get an abortion.
House Bill 242, which passed through the state House and is likely to move quickly through the Senate, seeks to limit minors’ ability to travel for abortion care without parental consent. The legislation would create a whole new crime — dubbed “abortion trafficking” — which is defined in the bill as an “adult who, with the intent to conceal an abortion from the parents or guardian of a pregnant, unemancipated minor, either procures an abortion … or obtains an abortion-inducing drug” for the minor. “Recruiting, harboring, or transporting the pregnant minor within this state commits the crime of abortion trafficking,” the legislation adds.
Abortion trafficking would be a felony, and those found guilty would face two to five years in prison. The legislation also includes a statute allowing the Idaho attorney general to supersede any local prosecutor’s decision, preemptively thwarting any prosecutor who vows not to enforce such an extreme law.
Since the bill would criminalize anyone transporting a pregnant minor within the state to get an abortion or to obtain medication abortion, it could apply to an aunt who drives a pregnant minor to the post office to pick up a package that includes abortion pills. Or it could target an older sibling who drives a pregnant minor to a friend’s house to self-manage an abortion at home. Either violation would carry a minimum sentence of two years in prison.
The legislation doesn’t actually say anything about crossing state lines, but Republican lawmakers are creative. Most pregnant people in Idaho are not traveling to obtain an abortion elsewhere in the state, since nearly all abortions are illegal in Idaho; they’re traveling to the border with the intent of crossing state lines, likely into Washington, Oregon or Montana, to get an abortion there.
“They’re going to say what they’re doing is just criminalizing actions that take place completely within Idaho, but in practice what they’re criminalizing is the person helping the minor,” Cohen, who also litigates abortion-related cases with the Women’s Law Project nonprofit, told HuffPost.
“It’s already illegal to get an abortion here in the state of Idaho,” she told HuffPost. “So, it would be taking that child across the border, and if that happens without the permission of the parent, that’s where we’ll be able to hold accountable those that would subvert a parent’s right.”
“The far right has an incremental plan. It’s death by a thousand cuts on many things, but they’re especially unrelenting on abortion,” Idaho Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow (D) told HuffPost. “My colleagues are just rabid about denying all access to abortion care. It’s really harmful to women, and it’s harmful to our state.”
The abortion trafficking bill is rapidly advancing through the Legislature. It passed along party lines in the state House (57-12-1) earlier this month with less than 10 minutes of floor discussion. The final roadblock for the bill was the Senate State Affairs Committee, which on Monday agreed to hold a full Senate vote. A handful of amendments, which don’t substantively change the bill, were added on Monday, meaning the bill will head back to the House for a full vote after the Senate vote takes place. It’s extremely likely to pass in the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 4 to 1, and in the House which has already passed the bill once. Gov. Brad Little (R), a devout anti-abortion advocate and the first governor to enact a copycat of Texas’ infamous bounty hunter abortion restriction, is likely to sign the bill into law.
“A parent absolutely still has the right to take their child across the border and get an abortion,” Ehardt added. “The parent still has the right to cede that power and authority to someone else, such as a grandparent or an aunt, to take that child, should they be pregnant, across the border and get an abortion.”
The language in the Idaho legislation is ripped nearly word for word from a model law published by the National Right to Life Committee, a leading anti-abortion group, just weeks before Roe fell. Idaho Right to Life, a state-level organization of National Right to Life, crafted the bill that Ehardt is leading through the Legislature.
“This is the first of what will probably be many states that pass provisions like this because it does seem to be something that the movement wants, at least for minors. Whether they expand it to adults, too, we will see,” Cohen said. “But at least for minors, this seems to be part of the blueprint. And Idaho is now the first state that’s putting it into reality.”
“There are cases where a minor might not feel safe telling their parents they need abortion care,” she said. “It could be an abusive family situation. It could be any number of circumstances that make it feel unsafe for a 17-year-old to go to her parents, but maybe she has a big sister who can help her out,” Necochea added, noting that the bill would prohibit a minor from talking to a sibling or other trusted relative about plans to obtain an abortion.
“It’s a very creative way of getting around the legality of this,” Rebecca Wang, legal support counsel at the reproductive justice nonprofit If/When/How, told HuffPost about the Idaho bill. “The phrasing of this law is very strategically trying not to impede on the right to travel but focusing more on the state’s right to interfere with young people’s medical decisions. I certainly see this as part of the trend of chipping away at the right to travel.”
“I can’t speak for what any organization or someone else may try to do, but as far as I’m concerned this is a way to handle parental rights,” she said. “I am not interested in carrying legislation to try to restrict someone’s ability, if they are pregnant and they are an adult, to go somewhere else [out of state].”
Similar to other abortion restrictions, the legality of the bill is suspect. And since people travel around Idaho and across state lines every day, it’s unclear how it would be enforced. Between the legal jargon and constant confusion around abortion limitations, the legislation is likely to simply have a chilling effect.
“This is another one of those laws that seeks to create an atmosphere of not being able to trust the people around you. They [Republican lawmakers] are relying on a network of people around a person seeking care to potentially report them to authorities,” Wang said.
“The very real effect we will see is adults who are supportive of a young person’s right to get an abortion are going to be quite hesitant to offer that assistance, and be concerned that they might be prosecuted and go to jail as a result of this,” she added. “That’s concerning because young people, more than anybody, need additional community support to access services.”
“There is nothing clear about current Supreme Court case law that mandates the result that I think is right, which is that this is unconstitutional,” Cohen said. “And because it’s not clear from the case law, I think motivated judges are going to have the ability to decide one way or the other based on how they feel about abortion.”