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Idaho Republicans are building an abortion police state

As a Democratic lawmaker, I’ve had a front row seat to this horrifying shift.

Not long ago, the idea of forcing rape and incest survivors to give birth to their rapists’ children wasn’t a priority for the Republican Party. There was some sort of line of basic human rights that GOP politicians were hesitant to cross, even though they pushed right up to it.

But in recent years, the extreme right has blasted through that line and converted the issue of abortion care into something sinister: the specter of a big-government police state, spying on doctors, patients and even rape victims at the behest of militants who want to define in law their own beliefs at the sacrifice of the First Amendment and separation of church and state. The extreme has been normalized. As a Democratic lawmaker in the deeply Republican state of Idaho, I’ve had a front row seat to this horrifying shift.

What was once beyond the pale became mainstream to Republicans.

As Idaho Republicans have passed restriction after restriction on women’s health care, physicians are scrambling to figure out whether prosecutors will track them down and lock them up in cases of miscarriages and high-risk pregnancies — an Orwellian world coming to fruition.

Two major hospitals have stopped offering labor and delivery services in the past month. We have lost two highly respected OB-GYN specialists, and more physicians are leaving the state because of laws criminalizing medical care. Idaho has become one of the most hostile work environments for physicians in the country, further exacerbating a physician shortage that already was the worst in the country.

This disaster didn’t come about overnight. Ten years ago, a bill that would have required an invasive transvaginal ultrasound before someone could receive abortion care failed after Idahoans flooded committee rooms, outraged. So, the next eight years, Republicans ate around the edges of the protections of Roe. In 2020, though, GOP politicians took a big bite and passed a “trigger law” banning and criminalizing abortion if, as came to pass, the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade. In 2021, they brought back the transvaginal ultrasound; government-mandated rape became mainstream. A year later, GOP politicians passed a bill deputizing ordinary citizens as vigilantes against health care providers who terminate a pregnancy.

What was once beyond the pale became mainstream to Republicans. Last year, Republicans attending their convention voted against any exemptions to allow abortions, including instances of rape, incest and danger to the life of a mother. In other words, women aren’t deserving of basic health care to save their lives. This stance is wildly out of step with Idahoans’ views — a poll commissioned last year by the Idaho Statesman found just 7% oppose abortion without exceptions. Fifty-one percent support it in all or most cases.

The extremism has only heightened in 2023. Last week, Gov. Brad Little signed two new abortion laws. The first, H242, makes it a felony to help a pregnant minor get an abortion in a state where it’s legal — the most oppressive restrictions on women in the country thanks to Idaho Republicans.

Idaho Republicans are using smoke and mirrors to try to fool people into thinking that they fixed a problem when they just made it worse.

The second, H374, has been portrayed as a “fix” to the severe abortion ban that is driving doctors and their families from the state. The bill codified a decision in which the Idaho Supreme Court defined “ectopic and molar pregnancies” as conditions that could legally be treated without being charged with a felony. But exceptions for the thousands of other pregnancy complications remain nonexistent, still casting significant doubt on what will be criminal or not. The Republican bill sponsor stated that he made a conscious decision to exclude an exception for the health of the mother because he and his colleagues valued the “life of the unborn” over the mother.

Adding insult to injury, the rape “exception” for abortion was narrowed to the first trimester, when most girls and women don’t know they’re pregnant. They also require police reports — as if a victim can simply run on down to the local station to get what would amount to a receipt for the rape to take to a doctor. Republicans know police aren’t going to give a protected report to anyone, especially if they are in the middle of an investigation. 

I’m at a loss at the lack of compassion, understanding and callousness about what rape and incest victims go through. Idaho Republicans are using smoke and mirrors to try to fool people into thinking that they fixed a problem when they just made it worse, especially since the state’s vigilante law completely erases any specter of this “exception” by allowing the relatives of a pregnant person seeking an abortion to sue physicians, even family members of a rapist!

What’s next?

Will police stop pregnant women driving across the border? Will the government monitor our menstrual cycles? Raid pharmacies searching for outlawed contraceptives like IUDs? Will pregnant women be harassed by vigilantes? How many health care workers, pharmacists and pregnant Idahoans will languish in prisons for providing or receiving health care that is legal in many of our neighboring states? The only fix to any of these bills is for the Idaho Legislature to get out of the medical business, allow trained physicians do their jobs and let women access the health care they need.