Idaho’s abortion travel ban is incredibly cruel | Moira Donegan

Idaho Republicans are seeking to restrict women and girls’ right to travel. Less than a year ago, the state banned abortion with a trigger law that went into effect after the supreme court overturned the abortion right in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health. Now, Idaho is looking to stop young women from travelling out of state for their procedures – and to criminalize those that help them. A bill that sailed through the state’s house of representatives and advanced in the state senate last week would make it a crime to transport a minor for the purposes of obtaining an abortion without the consent of her parents. The bill creates a new felony crime, so-called “abortion trafficking”, that’s punishable by two to five years in prison.

The bill would criminalize an aunt or grandmother who drives a teenage girl over the border for a legal abortion in Oregon. It would make a felon of the school friend who lends her money for a bus ticket, or the older sister who takes her to the post office to pick up a package with secretly mailed pills. The legislation also contains a provision giving the Idaho attorney general the ability to override the jurisdiction of local prosecutors on this charge – so if a local DA doesn’t want to prosecute those who help scared and desperate teenagers, the state can enforce its sadism anyway.

The law is notable as one of the first post-Dobbs efforts to limit women and girls’ right to travel, a project that is likely to accelerate as Republican state legislatures look for ways to enforce pregnancy and ensure women in their states cannot circumvent abortion bans. In his concurrence in Dobbs, Brett Kavanaugh, who has been credibly accused of sexual assault by multiple women and voted to overturn the abortion right, wrote that he would consider bans on interstate travel unconstitutional. Such is what passes for moderation in the anti-choice movement: not all of those who want the state to be able to commandeer women’s insides also want the state to be able to imprison women within their borders for the purpose.

But the law is written with a kind of technical cleverness: technically it only criminalizes travel within the state borders for the purposes of obtaining an abortion. The problem is that virtually any travel out of state requires in-state travel, too: the felony at play covers any aid given in helping a pregnant young woman travel to the state border from her own front door. “They’re not criminalizing people driving in Washington state with a minor. The crime is the time that someone is driving the minor in Idaho,” David Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University who studies abortion, told HuffPost. “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.” Will this effort persuade a court? It might. Flimsier pretexts and more strained technicalities have been accepted as rationales for restricting abortion access by a federal judiciary that is contemptuous towards women’s rights. More attacks on the right to travel from anti-choice zealots can be expected.

Idaho’s law specifically seeks the prosecutions of those who lend help and support to girls with unintended pregnancies

Yet the bill is also typical of an especially cruel strain in the anti-choice movement: that of threatening, punishing and criminalizing those who try to help women and girls end their unwanted pregnancies. Idaho’s law specifically seeks the prosecutions of those who lend help and support to girls with unintended pregnancies – the people they trust, and who they go to, often in desperation and fear, to help them regain control over their own bodies and lives. The targeting of third parties has been a trend in recent anti-abortion legal efforts: Texas’s SB8, which the supreme court allowed to ban abortion in the state even before the formal overruling of Roe v Wade, created a reward for civil litigants to track down and sue anyone who may have facilitated an abortion, from friends to doctors to Uber drivers – bounty-hunter style. Idaho also passed such a bill, as did several other states. The architect of SB8, Jonathan Mitchell, is now representing an ex-husband who is suing three friends of his former wife, alleging that they helped her to obtain abortion pills that she used to terminate her pregnancy without his permission. These bills seek to frighten and threaten those who a pregnant woman might turn to for resources or advice, seek to scare them into abandoning her to save themselves. In that way, the legislation that targets third parties attacks the very foundations of women’s social lives: their families, their friendships and their bonds of social trust. It is not an accident that most of the people that pregnant women know who they are close to and trusting to ask for help getting an abortion are other women. It is these bonds between women that the laws attack, because it is in these relationships of love, trust and mutual respect that abortion bans have always met their steepest resistance.

These kinds of anti-choice bills posit women and girls as the property of those around them: the wife who is not entitled to decline a pregnancy without the knowledge of her husband, the teenage girl who is not entitled to travel to another state without the assent of her father. (The Idaho bill also creates a civil cause of action, whereby plaintiffs can sue those involved with abortions for a minimum of $20,000. It’s available to a pregnant minor’s parents and to the man who impregnated her.) Speaking of the Idaho travel ban, one of the sponsors of the bill said the legislation targets “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.” Except the parent’s “right” here is the right to force a pregnancy. What a grim and impoverished view of parenthood: the ability to force your daughter to undergo a long and transformative physical ordeal, and to embark on the lifelong endeavor of parenthood, before she is ready. It sounds less like guardianship and more like ownership. Who would not want to help a young woman escape such a situation? The conscience cries out to assist her, to act. But that conscience, and the people who would follow it, is exactly what Idaho and the anti-choice movement nationwide are looking to destroy.

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