Idaho Set to Create New Crime of ‘Abortion Trafficking’

To get around the federally protected right to travel, this bill will criminalize the in-state part of traveling to an out-of-state abortion provider.

Idaho Set to Create New Crime of ‘Abortion Trafficking’
Photo:Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket (Getty Images)

Idaho is set to enact criminal penalties for those who help underage patients obtain abortion care without their parents’ permission, according to the text of a new bill that landed on Gov. Brad Little’s (R) desk on Thursday. Little is expected to sign the measure; just over a year ago, he signed a measure banning basically all abortions in Idaho.

The bill introduces a horrible little phrase: “abortion trafficking.” It’s a fear-mongering term that I won’t dwell on, but in this bill, it applies to adults who order abortion pills for underage patients or are found “recruiting, harboring or transporting the pregnant minor” and intend “to conceal” a child’s abortion without permission from a parent or guardian.

You might be curious about how Idaho intends to get away with criminalizing interstate travel, something under the federal government’s purview. This bill will criminalize the in-state part of a trip to an out-of-state abortion provider.

Establishing criminality is important to the lawmakers who wrote the bill. “We have the authority and the obligation and the opportunity to establish criminal laws in Idaho,” bill sponsor state Sen. Todd Lakey (R) told the chamber. “It doesn’t happen when they cross the state line. It happens when they take the furtherance and act in this capacity to facilitate and procure an abortion, and then get that minor to travel within the state to pursue that abortion.”

The bill will make it a crime punishable with two to five years in prison, but also allows people to sue the abortion providers for at least $20,000, even if the provider isn’t in Idaho. If a prosecutor declines to, well, prosecute, the bill gives the state attorney general the authority to do so.

The civil lawsuit can be brought by the abortion patient, the patient’s sexual partner as well as the fetus’s grandparents, siblings, aunts and/or uncles. The bill text does stop civil lawsuits by someone who raped or sexual assaulted (including incest) the abortion patient, but notably doesn’t rule out lawsuits from the rapist’s family members.

Idaho more likely than not will become the first state to ban minors from seeking abortion care out of state, but it will not be the first ever. Back in 2005, Missouri enacted similar legislation that opened a person up to civil penalties (as opposed to criminal charges) for helping a minor get an abortion, even if it was legal in the state it was performed. The idea was also proposed nationally by a Florida Republican in Congress in 2012.

That Missouri law is a great reminder that despite their endurance, very little about the anti-abortion movement is truly novel. (Sorry Idaho!) Anti-abortion activists seek to take away bodily autonomy for everyone, and it’s been their mission for decades.

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