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Red State Report: In Post-Roe Idaho, Pro-Choicers Make a Stand Against Dystopia

Issue 273

As calls for increasingly extreme anti-abortion laws grow in Idaho so too does the resistance.

Erin Sheridan Aug 19

Click here to read “Green Tide Rising in Latin America” by Laura Carlsen.

In Idaho, the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision allowing states to outlaw abortion set off a “trigger law” that will make abortion a felony when it goes into effect Aug. 25, unless the Idaho Supreme Court rules otherwise. 

Passed in 2020, the law was designed to go into effect if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It sets a two-year minimum prison sentence for medical professionals who perform an abortion. The only exceptions are to save the life of a pregnant woman and in cases of rape or incest — but only if the crime was reported to police and the patient gives the doctor a copy of that report.

Two other bills passed in 2021 would bar all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — before most women are able to confirm they’re pregnant — and allow family members of a woman who’s had an abortion to sue the medical providers who performed it. Planned Parenthood is challenging all three of these laws in state courts. During an Aug. 3 hearing, justices questioned conflicting language in the three laws. The court is expected to issue a ruling on whether those bans go into effect at the end of August.

Things could get worse. Politicians espousing white Christian nationalist views have won an increasing number of elected offices in Idaho. The highest ranking is Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who was a featured speaker at the white-nationalist America First Political Action Conference in February, though affected offices range from school board positions to county commissioners to state legislators.

The Idaho Family Policy Institute, the Christian-right group that pushed the six-week abortion ban, has lobbied for more extreme legislation. Some legislators have floated ideas like banning emergency contraception and IUDs, eliminating the exceptions for rape or incest, and penalizing individuals and businesses who attempt to pay for a pregnant woman to have an abortion out of state. 

Idaho became notorious as a haven for white supremacists when the Aryan Nations had a compound outside Coeur D’Alene in the 1990s. That element of extremism still exists here and is growing rapidly.

That last proposal would be significant because abortion is legal in Oregon and Washington, the two states on Idaho’s western border. Planned Parenthood, which operates the only current abortion clinic in eastern Oregon, has opened a clinic in Ontario, Ore., a border town of 11,000 people where many Idahoans already go to buy legal cannabis. It’s about an hour from Boise. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that the number of Idahoans seeking abortions in Washington will more than quadruple.

Even before the Supreme Court ruling, there were only three known abortion providers in the Boise area: one private obstetrician/gynecologist and two Planned Parenthood clinics, one in Boise (which closed at the end of May) and one in the adjacent city of Meridian. Planned Parenthood has another clinic in Twin Falls that provides the abortion pill through 11 weeks. 

Idaho previously enacted numerous restrictions on abortion. A 2008 law requires women seeing abortions to receive state-directed counseling designed to discourage them from having one and then wait 24 hours, and girls under 18 must have consent from a parent unless they can persuade a judge to let them bypass that. The state also has numerous regulations that use the pretext of safety to create obstacles to abortion, such as requiring all second-trimester abortions to be performed in a hospital.

I am new to Idaho, and I was born over two decades after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision held that state laws against abortion were unconstitutional. I did not grow up hearing the horrific stories about women having to choose between harming their bodies and risking their lives in back-alley abortions or carrying their rapists’ babies to term or giving up talent and careers to raise children against their will. I’ve always had a certain amount of freedom of movement, the expectation that my body is my own, and that I can pursue whatever I set my mind to. 

Idaho became notorious as a haven for white supremacists when the Aryan Nations had a compound outside Coeur D’Alene in the 1990s. That element of extremism still exists here and is growing rapidly with an influx of out-of-state money and right-wingers leaving liberal cities for Idaho’s increasingly extremist politics.

But since Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion was leaked in May, I have seen people across Idaho rally for abortion rights in ways I have not seen since moving here in 2021. In May, an estimated 5,000 people rallied outside the statehouse in Boise, forming an ocean of demonstrators in the city’s downtown. State Rep. Lauren Necochea (D-Boise) recalled her great-grandmother dying at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise after trying to abort a pregnancy during her abusive second marriage. 

“You can pry my IUD out of my cold, dead uterus,” Rep. Necochea told the crowd.

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