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Idaho bill would ban ‘abortion trafficking’ for minors traveling for procedure

Antiabortion demonstrators at the Idaho Capitol in Boise. (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman/AP)
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Less than a year after Idaho banned nearly all abortions, lawmakers are set to vote on a bill that would prohibit minors from interstate travel for the procedure, inching closer to becoming the first state to ban what Republicans are dubbing “abortion trafficking.”

During an Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday, lawmakers agreed to hold a full vote in the chamber on a Republican-led House bill that would establish the new crime of “abortion trafficking,” which would limit minors’ ability to travel for an abortion without parental consent, even in states where the procedure is legal. House Bill 242 would also mean that adults could face felony charges if they have “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 a minor.

“Recruiting, harboring, or transporting the pregnant minor within this state commits the crime of abortion trafficking,” the legislation reads.

The bill easily passed in the Idaho House earlier this month and is expected to pass in the state Senate after some amendments are made to the proposal. The bill is eventually expected to be signed into law by Gov. Brad Little (R), who has long supported the state’s six-week ban on abortion.

State Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R), one of the sponsors of the bill, championed the “abortion trafficking” proposal this week as a “parental rights” bill. Anyone found guilty of the felony could face between two to five years in prison, according to the bill. A civil clause included in the bill would allow family members of the minor or the person who impregnated them to sue the doctors who helped facilitate the procedure for at least $20,000.

“This gives us the tools to go after those who would subvert a parent’s right to be able to make those decisions in conjunction with their child,” Ehardt said this week, according to Boise State Public Radio.

Idaho Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow (D) denounced the bill in a statement to The Washington Post, saying the proposal “cheapens the term ‘human trafficking’ and that’s shameful.”

“Human trafficking is a terrible crime where one person takes another person against their will,” Wintrow said. “It is very different from helping a young woman seek medical care without her parents’ knowledge.”

Ehardt did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday. The Republican told HuffPost that the aim of the legislation is to curb minors from traveling out of state for an abortion without consent from their parents, saying that parents still have the right to take their child elsewhere to get the procedure.

“It’s already illegal to get an abortion here in the state of Idaho,” she said. “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.”

She added, “What we want to make sure of is that parents are the ones who are in charge of their children.”

The upcoming vote for the bill comes about a week after a rural Idaho hospital announced that it would stop delivering babies or providing other obstetric care due, in part, to the “legal and political climate” surrounding abortion in the state. Officials with Bonner General Health in Sandpoint, Idaho, said in a news release that a shortage of pediatricians and decreasing number of deliveries also contributed to its decision, which came after trigger laws banned nearly all abortions following the repeal of Roe v. Wade last year.

“The Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care,” the hospital said in the news release.

Idaho hospital to stop delivering babies, partly due to ‘political climate’

Idaho is among the states with the strictest abortion laws in the nation. The six-week ban that went into effect in August bans abortions except in cases involving rape, incest or when a woman’s life is in danger and does not contain an exception for when a pregnant person’s health is at risk. A judge blocked the part of the ban that would have criminalized the act of performing an abortion to protect the patient’s health.

The Idaho bill blocking interstate travel for an abortion is not the first time the issue has come up for a vote. In 2005, Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) introduced a bill that would have banned “taking minors across State lines in circumvention of laws requiring the involvement of parents in abortion decisions.” While the proposal found support from President George W. Bush — “I appreciate the Senate’s efforts to preserve the integrity of state law and protect our nation’s families,” he said at the time — several versions of the bill failed between 2005 and 2006.

The abortion “trafficking” bill in Idaho was introduced last month and passed on a party-line vote of 57-12-1 on March 7 after less than 10 minutes of discussion on the Idaho House floor.

The proposal has been met by criticism from Democrats, health-care professionals and abortion rights supporters. Among them is Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman, the Idaho state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, who argued to lawmakers that while “a majority of young people facing an unexpected pregnancy do involve their parents in their decision-making,” there are situations where that’s not possible.

“But for young people living in abusive households, disclosing sexual activity or a pregnancy can trigger physical or emotional abuse, including direct, physical or sexual violence, or being thrown out of the home,” she said this week, according to KMVT.

Wintrow echoed those concerns to The Post, saying a majority of young women who become pregnant already seek help and guidance from their parents — “the ones who don’t have reason for their secrecy including potential abuse or abandonment.” She also criticized the civil clause in the bill that could trigger lawsuits from relatives “who may or may not have any relations with the young woman in the center of the litigation.”

“It is disappointing that Idaho lawmakers are encouraging lawsuits, many frivolous and harmful to young women,” the Democrat said.

Since Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state legislature by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1, the bill is widely expected to pass the state Senate once the amendments are filed in the state House.

Brittany Shammas, Marisa Iati, Perry Stein and Caroline Kitchener contributed to this report.

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