(CN) — Walk down one of Idaho’s longest streets and it won’t be long before you see a billboard looming overhead, promoting an anti-abortion mission statement bought and paid for by one of the state’s anti-abortion groups became.
Continue down this street a little and you’re in the heart of downtown Boise, where on weekends it’s common to see groups of protesters gathering around public parks carrying abortion slogans. Turn a little off this road and you will find a Planned Parenthood office where protesters from both camps can be found and their signage is used to distinguish them from one another.
These have become a common sight in most of America, but they are far from new in Idaho. For decades, the state has been caught in a conflict between a GOP willing to show its contempt for abortion and a far more progressive capital city populace who — while still politically outnumbered in the red state — are willing to defend abortion Rights that have been granted to them for so long.
Then the United States Supreme Court opened the floodgates for states to do as they please with abortion laws, and it seemed like Idaho was crowning a winner in its conflict. But that reality may not be so simple — and this battle may be far from over.
One of the first questions Idahoans had after the state’s push on abortion rights was how far the state was willing to go with them. Legislatures have enacted at least three separate bans that, taken together, ban virtually all abortions in the Gem State.
Melissa Wintrow, a Democratic Senator from Idaho’s 19th District, says one of those bills passed by her peers proposes an exception in cases of rape or incest, an exception that is making its way into other bans across the country has found – but the senator says Idaho’s is all but non-existent.
“With the bill that they got through, they are pointing out that there is a narrow exception for rape or incest,” Wintrow said. “Well, it’s no exception at all. They want a police report, and as I told them in the Senate, two years in a row. . . that we have a law that exempts police reports from public records. I just heard from someone two days ago who has been trying to get a police report for four months. So, as I said to my colleagues, this exception really isn’t an exception.”
This contradiction between what an Idaho statute says you must do to qualify for an abortion exemption and another statute that appears to make that goal impossible is not a new discovery and has been the subject of debate for the Legislature from Idaho. So how did GOP lawmakers resolve the paradox when it was brought to their attention? According to Wintrow, they didn’t.
“They just dismissed it in the Senate. ‘No, you can have it.’ And they know they can’t. One of the senators is a former prosecutor, and they know they can’t. It’s just defeat and it’s disingenuous. They basically fool people into thinking they are compassionate when they are not.”
But contradictory or not, the state’s abortion bans could be on a collision course with another issue: how they’re going to hold up if their biggest city isn’t interested in them.
Shortly after one of the bans went into effect, the Boise City Council passed a resolution that not only reaffirmed its commitment to protecting reproductive rights, but also announced that it was devoting its time and resources to investigating abortions or enforcing them of the bans would use. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said that after the bans, it was expected that the city would redirect its resources to investigating claims and doctors, but the city had more important things on its plate.
Idaho GOP officials pushed back on the move, calling it a “blatant violation of the rule of law” and one that will set a “dangerous precedent” if acted upon.
When asked what plans the city had for enforcing their abortions, a spokesman for the Boise Police Department said they were “investigating criminal allegations, which we are required by law to do.”
About two dozen local Republican lawmakers have been contacted to comment on how they view Boise’s move and whether there are plans to censure him. As of publication, no one has responded.
While it’s unclear if the stage is set for a political battle between the city of Boise and the state, it raises an important question Idahoans and many others continue to ask: When will Idaho Republicans feel their fight against the having won and being an abortion? content to leave sleeping dogs lying around? Or will they hammer through more restrictions and hold those who think differently to account?
Ross Burkhart, a professor of political science at Boise State University, says that from a political shenanigans perspective, the state may have little to gain by continuing its crusade.
“While hardliners in Idaho will seek to eliminate all exceptions to the abortion law, there is no overall electoral advantage for supermajority Republicans to do so,” Burkhart said. “Upholding abortion rights is clearly a motivator for Democratic elections, so Republicans are somewhat on the defensive nationally. The motivation to vote could play a role in the few fringe seats in Idaho, like the 15th legislative district in West Boise.”
If Republicans decide to keep up the pressure on abortion restrictions, one area where it could take place is the issue of out-of-state abortion providers targeting those in states where abortion is banned.
And Idaho’s northwest neighbors have done just that. Both Oregon and Washington have put together multimillion-dollar funds to cover medical and travel expenses for Idahoans and other Red State refugees who have made the pilgrimage to states that remain pro-abortion. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said her state was the first to set aside that kind of money and that the state’s $15 million fund would also help stem the massive influx of patients from overseas to manage something.
Could Idaho Republicans see this as a potential leak in their bans and try to prop them up? Skye Perryman, CEO and president of Democracy Forward, which filed an amicus brief in support of the Biden administration’s challenge to one of the bans, says we should remember that freedom of travel in the United States has long been at the heart of our country lies.
“People have the right to travel,” Perryman said. “People have the right to move around the country. This is a fundamental principle of our democracy, a fundamental principle of our laws. And there are a number of states that are taking increasingly extreme positions that are trying to undermine even people’s freedom of movement, which should affect everyone not just from a women’s health perspective, but also from a democratic perspective.”
Congress attempted to get ahead of this issue and pass legislation that would ensure a person’s ability to travel across state lines for abortion services. It was blocked by Senate Republicans before it even saw the light of day.
Idaho Republicans have yet to play a game here, and legal experts seem to agree that this mode of travel is protected by the Fourteen Amendments — but not too many months ago the same amendment was used to protect abortion rights. If the overthrow of Roe v. calf one thing the nation has learned is that these precedents can feel safe until the moment they don’t.
And Perryman says we need to remember that when lawmakers show us their intentions on issues like this, it’s about time we start taking their word for it.
“The concern is not unfounded. And the lesson from all of this is that when these state legislators show you who they are, people need to start believing them, take them seriously, and do their part to roll back that extremism.”
A similar struggle may be brewing in the insurance world, where many employers and companies have begun to distance themselves from their states’ anti-abortion policies.
Yogurt giant Chobani, which operates a 1-million-square-foot facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, announced over the summer that it would now cover expenses, including gas and lodging, for its employees who have to travel abroad for one Cancellation.
While Senator Wintrow and others in the state suspect that Idaho GOP leaders will oppose these policies, Burkhart notes that the impact abortion bans will have on businesses is new and undiscovered. It’s unclear whether the abortion bans and abortion care services that a growing number of employers are offering could change job prospects in the state. So lawmakers might be advised to tread carefully through this jungle.
“To the extent that the abortion ban comes into conflict with the Idaho business community, it could create a problem for state labor recruitment, and therefore the state’s economy, if potential workers consider a full array of health services available to them before.” they accept job offers. We don’t have evidence from surveys on how important reproductive health services are to potential employees because the Roe reversal is so new, but it could definitely be a factor in a competitive job market.”
As these insecurities and myriad others continue to gnaw at a population hungry for answers and yearning for some stability, it’s important to remember that, like so much in American life, these things have a habit of moving from one change cents to the other. Landmark decisions we have from the highest courts create safeguards one day, and the next come rulings overturning them.
State supreme courts, like that of Idaho, are allowing abortion bans to go into effect while legal challenges are being fought out while others have chosen to block them.
If Idaho’s history is any indicator, it’s a back and forth that will likely continue for years to come. It is a struggle longer than any legislature, any term in office, maybe even longer than a lifetime. And if there’s any certainty, it’s that billboards will continue to find businesses along busy streets, parks will always find visitors in protesters, and if you ever need a reminder of the status of abortion rights in your area, all you need to do is to heed the chants on their lips and the signs they make above their heads.