Demonstrators walk to the Idaho Capitol carrying anti-abortion signs on April 5, 2023.
Photo: Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
The dream of many far-right pro-natalists came true on Wednesday, when Idaho became the first state to restrict interstate travel for abortion. Abortion is already almost entirely prohibited in Idaho; the new law makes it illegal to help minors travel out of state to receive abortion care without parental consent.
The legislation sits at the intersection of many of Republicans’ preferred sites of oppression today: the criminalization of pregnancy, extreme attacks on bodily autonomy, and the total decimation of young people’s liberty, all under the manufactured pretext of so-called parental rights.
Idaho’s new law sets yet another grim precedent by bringing a whole new category of crime into being: “abortion trafficking.” The law defines “abortion trafficking” as anyone “recruiting, harboring, or transporting the pregnant minor within this state” to obtain an abortion without parental permission. That could mean driving a minor across state lines to receive an abortion, but it also criminalizes any adult who helps a minor access abortion medication within the state, like taking a pregnant teen to the post office to pick up abortion pills ordered online. A person found guilty of the newly fashioned crime could spend up to five years in prison.
Idaho Republicans were sure to borrow from other states’ cruelest strategies for attacking bodily autonomy. Echoing the vigilante-enforced abortion ban first introduced in Texas in 2021, the new Idaho law allows any family member of the fetus or any man who impregnates someone, including by rape, to sue abortion providers. Lawmakers explicitly agreed on an amendment to remove a preexisting exemption that prevented rapists from filing such suits.
Of course, banning interstate travel directly would raise major constitutional issues. But just as the bounty-hunter laws were deviously designed to evade federal court challenges, the “abortion trafficking” law only criminalizes the time spent traveling with a pregnant minor within the state of Idaho, thus invoking a de facto ban on obtaining an abortion in neighboring states like Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Planned Parenthood already announced that it would challenge the ban in court.
The law puts at immediate risk many thousands of teenagers who might become pregnant and lack supportive parents or legal guardians. Any adults who would help them are now deemed criminals. And while Idaho’s extremely strict abortion ban does have a technical exception for incest and rape, it only applies if the crime is reported to law enforcement. For a vast array of reasons, many victims of rape and incest do not report their assaults to the police; this is especially the case when it comes to child victims, whose abusers may in fact be their own parents. Thanks to the new “abortion trafficking” law, it is now a crime to assist such a child, impregnated by rape or incest, in ending that pregnancy.
Like the GOP’s obscene, eliminationist attacks on trans youth nationwide, the Idaho law is framed as in the interest of protecting children and the rights of their parents. In practice, these laws clarify the Republican vision of what children should be: devoid of autonomy and reduced to the status of parental property, if, and only if, that parent is deemed the appropriate political subject. The supportive parents of trans children, for example, are considered to be unfit bearers of parental rights, as Texas policy dictates they be investigated as potential child abusers. Meanwhile, the rights of parents who refuse to help their child access an abortion — that is, parents who force a child to carry a pregnancy to term and give birth — are explicitly protected by Idaho’s new law.
What the bill in fact does is ensure that right-wing parents are able to enforce the conservative state’s political will on their children’s bodies.
Idaho Republican State Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who sponsored the “abortion trafficking” bill, told reporters that it “gives us the tools to go after those who would subvert a parent’s right to be able to make those decisions in conjunction with their child.”
What the bill in fact does is ensure that right-wing parents are able to enforce the conservative state’s political will on their children’s bodies. And while it’s true that parents who support their child’s right to an abortion will be able to act on this, if they have the resources to organize out-of-state travel, the structural problem is the same: Public, communal care for reproductive health and freedom is criminalized.
Insistence on highly selective, white-supremacist parental rights is a cynical Republican base-baiting strategy. But it also expresses a deadly serious commitment to the logic of austerity when it comes to stripping away health care provisions and crushing the possibility of robust communities of care, in which bodily autonomy and sovereignty — including that of children — is respected. Such insistence on parental rights entails that the only permissible care is privatized within the atomized, legally sanctioned family. And in the name of that family, great harm is done.
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