When the conservative majority on the Supreme Court yanked away the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, effectively washing their hands of the issue and allowing individual states to do their worst, they were well aware of what they were setting into motion. In addition to the 13 states that had already adopted “trigger laws” automatically outlawing abortion the moment Roe v. Wade was overruled, there were innumerable pieces of crafty legislation waiting in the wings, all geared to further advance a forced-birth agenda and imposing it on those states that continued to allow women and others who became pregnant the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.
Republicans by their nature have always preferred to prey on the most defenseless and vulnerable in order to impose their forced-birth ideology, so pregnant minors present an irresistibly attractive target. Not only are such minors socially “undesirable” citizens in their eyes, unlikely to generate much sympathy from others, but—probably most importantly—they are also precluded from fighting back with their votes. In other words, they’re a population tailor-made for Republican efforts at controlling and punishing behavior they and their theocratic patrons deem “sinful.” Once laws prohibiting minors from obtaining an abortion are safely in place, Republicans—with the aid of a complicit Supreme Court—can turn their focus toward their more obstinate and politically powerful enemies, now that their ultimate goal of outlawing all abortions, everywhere, is well within their sights.
One of the thornier challenges facing the fanatics who promote and write these laws is the problem of interstate travel. How can a state effectively prevent its residents from simply crossing the border to a “safe” haven to obtain the procedure? To solve this vexing issue that threatens to undercut their efforts to control and punish, the forced-birth lobby believes that if it can criminalize any efforts to even begin the process of traveling while the pregnant person is still trapped, trying desperately to escape her home state, it can effectively thwart such efforts, even while paying lip service to other states’ so-called “rights.”
And who should be the first, “test” victims in this scheme? As the Republican-controlled state of Idaho is about to show us, it’s pregnant minors, of course.
Abortion is already completely banned in Idaho except in the case of “medical emergencies,” with laws on the books criminalizing doctors who perform the procedure. But the Idaho legislature noticed that in response, people of whom they disapprove continue to travel out-of-state to neighboring Washington, Oregon, or Montana, to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.
To correct this intolerable affront to their dream of controlling their own state’s residents, Idaho Republicans have now passed the first of what promise to be many bills created to stop such “abortion refugees” from traveling interstate.
As reported by Alanna Vagianos, writing for HuffPost:
House Bill 242, which passed through the state House and is likely to move quickly through the Senate, seeks to limit minors’ ability to travel for abortion care without parental consent. The legislation would create a whole new crime — dubbed “abortion trafficking” — which is defined in the bill as an “adult who, with 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 the minor. “Recruiting, harboring, or transporting the pregnant minor within this state commits the crime of abortion trafficking,” the legislation adds.
In other words, this bill forces young women and others who may become pregnant to obtain parental consent, making any person who assists them an “abortion trafficker” subject to up to five years’ imprisonment. As Vagianos reports:
Since the bill would criminalize anyone transporting a pregnant minor within the state to get an abortion or to obtain medication abortion, it could apply to an aunt who drives a pregnant minor to the post office to pick up a package that includes abortion pills. Or it could target an older sibling who drives a pregnant minor to a friend’s house to self-manage an abortion at home. Either violation would carry a minimum sentence of two years in prison.
As Vagianos observes, the law intentionally (to avoid legal challenges) doesn’t say anything about interstate travel. But since all abortions, practically speaking, are already illegal in Idaho, the people actually targeted by this law are any adults who drive the minor across the border.
“Technically, they’re not criminalizing people driving in Washington state with a minor. The crime is the time that someone is driving the minor in Idaho,” said David Cohen, a law professor at Philadelphia’s Drexel University whose work focuses on constitutional law and abortion policy.
“They’re going to say what they’re doing is just criminalizing actions that take place completely within Idaho, but in practice what they’re criminalizing is the person helping the minor,” Cohen, who also litigates abortion-related cases with the Women’s Law Project nonprofit, told HuffPost.
The requirement of “parental consent” is the excuse typically trotted out by Republican forced-birthers who try to champion their “family values” and “parental rights” in inflicting such restrictions on pregnant minors. But the reality for many minors, as noted by the state director for Idaho’s Planned Parenthood chapter, is that such consent is not a feasible option.
As reported by Steve Kirch for Boise’s CBS affiliate KMTV:
Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman, the Idaho State Director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Adv, said the legislation violates the rights of minors, and there might be situations where a minor will seek help from an older sibling or trusted adult.
“The majority of young people facing an unexpected pregnancy do involve their parents in their decision-making. But for young children living in abusive households, disclosing sexual activity or pregnancy can trigger physical or emotional abuse, including direct physical or sexual violence, or being thrown out of the home,” she said.
As Kirch reports, the legislation also contains a “civil penalty” provision under which “a family member of the pregnant minor, the father of the preborn child, or the father’s family, can sue a medical professional who helped facilitate the abortion for at least $20,000.” Faced with such a daunting array of legal and criminal obstacles, a pregnant minor is essentially forced to travel out of state by herself to terminate a pregnancy, assuming she has the wherewithal, capability or resources to do so.
As Vagianos observes, 36 states currently require minors to obtain parental consent for terminating a pregnancy, and although most of those states permit the minor to obtain permission from the court to do so, such provisions are usually too cumbersome and onerous for most minors to realistically comply with. This is why, as Vagianos notes, “Several national health groups agree that a minor should not be required to involve their parents in decisions to obtain an abortion, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
It is also why Republicans in state legislatures such as Idaho’s specifically target minors with such laws. Because, as Vagianos writes, they know that pregnant minors have no way of fighting back: “They have fewer rights than adults in some situations, allowing lawmakers to litigate away critical health care for adolescents.”
Anyone who expected the forced-birth lobby to be satisfied simply by the Supreme Court’s overruling Roe v. Wade doesn’t understand the fanaticism guiding this movement. They are not going to stop assaulting reproductive rights until anyone—in any state—faced with an unwanted pregnancy is forced to give birth, against their will.
The only thing that will stop them is by voting their Republican enablers out of office.
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