Health Care

Idaho legislature passes abortion trafficking ban

It is set to become the first state to limit the ability of pregnant minors to travel to other states to access abortion services.
The Idaho state flag hangs in the Idaho State capitol in Boise, Idaho, on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Kyle Green)

Idaho is set to become the first state to limit the ability of pregnant minors to travel to other states to access abortion services after lawmakers cleared a key hurdle Thursday morning.

The state Senate gave final approval to a new bill that would create a new crime of abortion trafficking, punishable by up to five years in prison, if an adult helps a minor obtain access to an abortion or abortion-inducing medication with the intent to conceal the abortion from the minor’s parent or guardian.

While the bill allows someone to transport a pregnant minor to receive an abortion with a parent’s consent, the bill specifically says transporting minors across state lines to obtain an abortion would violate the law.

Abortion is legal in most circumstances in Washington, Oregon and Nevada, three states that border Idaho.

The bill also allows Idaho’s attorney general to prosecute any violations of the bill, superseding local prosecutors in the state’s few liberal enclaves who might decide not to take legal action.

“This is important legislation that does help prevent our kids. It does help prevent and protect against abortion, especially those that happen without the consent in another state,” Idaho Sen. Todd Lakey (R), the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, said Thursday. “Trafficking is a crime that we define in a particular context. That’s our job as legislators to define what we think is appropriate.”

Democrats and abortion-rights activists said the bill amounted to government overreach, in which legislators in Idaho attempt to regulate activity happening in another state.

“This bill in essence makes going to a state where an abortion is allowed, in other words is legal, a crime,” state Sen. James Ruchti (D), the assistant minority leader, said on the Senate floor before voting against the bill. “Idaho is in essence trying to say what is legal and illegal in another state. And I know for sure Idaho wouldn’t put up with that.”

The Republican-dominated Senate voted 27-7 Thursday morning to approve the bill with minor amendments. The state House must agree to those amendments before the measure goes to Gov. Brad Little (R) for a signature.

The bill is virtually certain to face a legal challenge once Little adds his signature. Rebecca Gibron, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, told States Newsroom her group would challenge the new law in court.

Gibron cited Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case that ultimately eliminated the federal right to an abortion that had existed for half a century after Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh’s opinion said states would not be allowed to bar travel across borders.

“Idaho has the strictest abortion ban in the  country. It is criminal, it is totally banned, and this bill adds insult to injury,” state Sen. Melissa Wintrow (D) said on the Senate floor Thursday. “It is unnecessary and unneeded and further shackles young girls.”

Elizabeth Nash, who oversees state issues for the Guttmacher Institute, said some laws barring transporting a minor for an abortion have passed in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. The Oklahoma law was struck down, while the Missouri Supreme Court upheld much of its law.

“This bill just shows how far abortion opponents will go to eliminate access to abortion,” Nash said in an email. “Idaho has an abortion ban in effect and they are now attempting to limit minors’ access in other states.”

Idaho Republicans who backed the bill cast it as a way to protect minors, and to allow parents to have input in their children’s lives.

“Abortion is a serious moral and health issue, and parents have a right to participate in decision-making with their underage daughter,” state Sen. Cindy Carlson (R) told her colleagues before voting in favor of the bill.