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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Abortion foes seek to extend reach into pro-choice states

Planned Parenthood’s Paul Dillon addresses the crowd during a protest against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday, Jun 24, 2022, in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Planned Parenthood’s Paul Dillon addresses the crowd during a protest against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday, Jun 24, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Pro-what now?

Even as the case of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who had to flee to Indiana to avoid being forced to carry her rapist’s child to term put the state of our post-Roe world into appalling relief, Idaho’s GOP doubled down on forced pregnancy in the most extreme cases.

The platform for Idaho’s Republican Party had already supported defining abortion as “murder” from the moment of fertilization – zygote homicide, without exception. Last week at the annual party convention in Twin Falls, a proposal to allow an exemption to protect the life of the mother was overwhelmingly voted down.

No exception for rape. No exception for incest. No exception to save a mother’s life.

These are radical positions by any measure. Nearly three quarters of Americans oppose no-exception abortion bans, according to a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll.

And yet those who would kill a woman to save an embryo have already begun to alter the legal landscape and plan to alter it further. Many are completely unmoved by the realities of ectopic pregnancy, say, or child rape. And – though lawmaking and court challenges have thrown the national picture into turmoil – several states have already implemented no-exception abortion bans.

Idaho’s current trigger law, which is being challenged in court, does include exceptions for rape or incest, but only if those crimes are reported to police. But as the state’s GOP plunges further down the rabbit hole of radicalism, the likelihood that some lawmakers will try to eliminate those exceptions seems high.

It’s some kind of upside-down matrix of cruelty and ignorance, adopted by the supposedly pro-lifiest of them all: Rape is life. Incest is life. Death is life.

Furthermore, nascent proposals are being floated in anti-abortion states that would attempt to extend a draconian hand across state lines – including proposals to criminalize abortion providers across borders, restrict interstate travel by women seeking an abortion, punish companies who pay their employees to travel for care, defund providers who provide lifesaving care to mothers, and prohibit speaking about or advertising abortion services.

This could have significant implications in Washington, where abortion rights remain secure for now and which is bound to see a huge spike in out-of-state patients, including children and rape victims.

“When you talk about the Ohio case – could it happen in Idaho? Absolutely. It can and it will,” said Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.

The interstate implications of the post-Roe world were initially presented as something simple and clear – pro-abortion-rights states coexisting side-by-side with anti-abortion-rights states. A lot of people pushed this idea in the aftermath of the Alito leak, arguing that things wouldn’t really change much.

After all, red states have already made it very difficult for women to obtain an abortion. And blue states that already support abortion rights will continue to do so.

With blazing speed, however, it’s become obvious that anti-abortion, no-exceptions lawmakers will attempt to exert influence across state lines. Beyond that, there has been a rapid onset of unintended consequences stemming from the legal uncertainty of a tyrannical moment – doctors refusing to provide care for women who are miscarrying, or refusing to prescribe methotrexate for arthritis, or otherwise withholding treatment over fears that a Republican attorney general might misunderstand and have them arrested.

Day by day, the worst-case scenarios become more plausible, and the likelihood that these scenarios will ripple from red states into blue ones grows.

Women from Idaho have been coming to Washington for abortions for a long time. At the Spokane Planned Parenthood center, about 1 in 4 patients who seek an abortion come from out of state, Dillon said. In the Spokane Valley facility, it’s closer to half. In Pullman, it’s roughly two-thirds.

Dillon said the organization expects a statewide increase in out-of-state clients of nearly 400%.

How Idaho’s current and future laws may attempt to restrict abortion has major implications here.

“It’s a huge concern for us, especially given how they’re likely to go after providers,” he said.

Most people who end their pregnancies are adults seeking to control their own lives. But the number of children who receive abortions is greater than you might imagine, and the Ohio case is less rare than any of us would hope.

“The situation out of Ohio is in no way unique,” Katie McHugh, an OB-GYN in Indiana and board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told the New York Times. “This is a situation that every abortion provider has seen before.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, there were nearly 4,500 pregnancies among girls younger than age 15 in 2017, the last year figures were available. Forty-four percent of those ended in abortion.

In Ohio, the Times reported, 52 girls younger than 15 received an abortion in 2020.

In Idaho, according to the Idaho Capital Sun, girls between ages 10 and 14 have received abortions every year since at least 2003. The numbers range from three in 2017 to 13 in 2010.

Most Americans support the general right to an abortion and opposed the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe, though a substantial minority do not. Vanishingly few of us believe that young girls, often the victims of rape and incest, should be forced to give birth. Only the tiniest, cruelest fraction of our nation wants to force women to die to give birth.

But the push to make that the law that is well under way. Just how far this push will go – and how successful it will be in extending its reach across state lines – is very much an open question.

“The reality is yet to set in,” Dillon said.

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