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End of Roe v. Wade looms large in Idaho, where women are likely to seek abortions in Washington

UPDATED: Wed., May 4, 2022

The Idaho Supreme Court building is shown in 2017 in Boise, Idaho. The court in April temporarily blocked a new state law that would ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.  (Associated Press)
The Idaho Supreme Court building is shown in 2017 in Boise, Idaho. The court in April temporarily blocked a new state law that would ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. (Associated Press)
By Jim Brunner Seattle Times

BOISE – For abortion-rights advocates and foes alike, the looming end of Roe v. Wade has brought an emotional wallop in a state where virtually all abortions could soon be a crime.

The leak of an apparent draft majority opinion – though not a final ruling – by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe decision came as a shock to even some longtime anti-abortion activists.

David Ripley, executive director of Idaho Chooses Life, has been working to halt abortion for three decades. Even he could scarcely believe his eyes when the leaked majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was published by Politico this week.

“The reality of this actually happening is kind of overwhelming, to tell you the truth. Joy and exhilaration is part of it for sure,” Ripley said. “I’m just praying the court finishes what it started.”

For abortion-rights advocates, long under siege in the conservative state that had already enacted multiple abortion restrictions, this week’s news struck hard.

“It was a feeling of just utter devastation,” said Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman, Idaho state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, who said she was making dinner with her family Monday when her phone started “blowing up” with texts.

“One hundred percent of people who are pregnant will have to flee the state to access health care, which is as dystopian as you can get,” said DelliCarpini-Tolman.

A trigger law signed by Idaho Gov. Brad Little in 2020 would ban abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, the law will take effect 30 days later. Health-care providers would face felony charges punishable by up to five years in prison for violations.

That could send more than 1,600 Idaho women annually to clinics hundreds of miles away in Walla Walla, Spokane, Eugene and other sites in Washington and Oregon – the nearest states that would still offer legal abortions, said DelliCarpini-Tolman, citing 2020 figures on abortions in Idaho.

DelliCarpini-Tolman said abortion-rights advocates and health care providers have been planning for the demise of legal abortion in the state and will work with allies in Washington and Oregon to ensure that Idahoans seeking abortions can still affordably obtain them.

She said the ending of legal abortion in the state will fall heavily on people of color. “People with means – mostly white women – will almost always get abortions,” she said.

Unlike in Washington, where the Supreme Court news prompted outraged rallies and news conferences with top politicians, the scene in Boise was relatively quiet on Tuesday. Only small groups of abortion-rights protesters waved signs and chanted at the state Capitol and the Ada County Courthouse. A larger march and rally here is planned for May 14.

In his office at the Capitol on Tuesday, Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, called the leak of the Supreme Court opinion shocking. But he welcomed the substance of the seemingly imminent decision.

“Idaho has long been a pro-life state,” said Bedke, a leading candidate for Idaho lieutenant governor this year. “We believe in the sanctity of life, and so I don’t know how this changes much. I mean, it may, but it’s no secret that Idaho collectively has been a very pro-life state.”

But DelliCarpini-Tolman said even in the conservative state, most people reject abortion bans. She cited a 2019 poll commissioned by abortion-rights backers that found 65% of voters agreed it is important for women in Idaho to have access “to all of the reproductive health options available, including abortion.”

DelliCarpini-Tolman predicted that the possible end of legal abortion in the state will generate backlash. She said abortion-rights supporters will redouble efforts to make the stakes clear in political races.

“I don’t view this as the end. This is a moment in the movement. We cannot back down,” she said.

Ripley, the anti-abortion activist, said even as he welcomes the end of Roe, he understands that it may deepen America’s political fissures.

“It is going to cause an earthquake in the culture,” he said, pointing to “two or three generations” who have grown up under the understanding that abortion is a constitutionally protected right and was “of no greater concern than getting a boil lanced.”

“It’s going to be very shocking and difficult for people to get their mindset around this,” Ripley said.

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