Under Idaho's new 'abortion trafficking' law, adults who help minors get abortions could face jail time

Idaho is now the first state to pass a law criminalizing interstate travel for some abortions since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year.

Anti-abortion demonstrators at the Idaho Capitol carry signs reading: We are praying for you.
Anti-abortion demonstrators at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 21 in Boise. (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman via ZUMA Press Wire)

Helping a pregnant minor receive abortion care without parental consent will soon be a crime punishable by prison time in Idaho.

Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, signed into law Wednesday evening new legislation that will make Idaho the first state to criminalize interstate travel for some abortions since the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion last year.

The legislation, which proponents say is designed to protect parental rights, was quickly condemned by abortion rights advocates.

“This bill is one of the most extreme bills I have seen in my career at Planned Parenthood,” Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman, Idaho state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, told Yahoo News.

A sign taped to a clothes hanger near the Idaho Capitol reads: My body my choice.
A sign taped to a clothes hanger near the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 5 following protests against the state’s abortion laws. (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman via ZUMA Press Wire)

Idaho already has one of the strictest abortion laws in the country, which bans most abortions after six weeks of gestation, before most women know they are pregnant, with narrow exceptions for cases of rape and incest, and to save the life of the mother. As a result, people in need of the procedure are traveling to neighboring states such as Washington, Wyoming and Montana where abortions remain legal, though with varying levels of restrictions.

In a letter sent to Idaho House Speaker Mike Moyle on Wednesday, Little wrote that the law, which is slated to take effect in 30 days, wouldn’t “impair interstate travel, nor does it limit an adult woman from obtaining an abortion in another state.”

Rather, Little clarified that the primary goal of the bill was to prevent “minor girls from being taken across state lines for an abortion without the knowledge and consent of her parent or guardian.”

The Idaho law creates a new crime called “abortion trafficking,” which prohibits adults from obtaining abortion-inducing medication for a minor, or “recruiting, harboring, or transporting the pregnant minor” without the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian.

Those who are found guilty could face two to five years in prison. The law also includes a provision that allows the state attorney general to prosecute a case if local prosecutors refuse to do so.

The legislation allows family members of the pregnant minor, as well as the person who impregnated her, to file civil lawsuits against the medical professionals who provide abortion care. These plaintiffs could receive at least $20,000 for damages.

“This is a very punitive law that would, basically, understandably, make anyone extraordinarily concerned about facilitating someone accessing bodily autonomy in this respect,” Miranda Yaver, an assistant professor of political science who studies health policy at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, told Yahoo News.

The interior of the Idaho House of Representatives is seen from above.
The Idaho House of Representatives. (Keith Ridler/AP)

State Rep. Barbara Ehardt, a Republican, who introduced the “abortion trafficking” bill earlier this year, described it as a “parental rights” bill, according to Boise State Public Radio.

“This 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,” Ehardt said at a Senate State Affairs Committee meeting last month.

Planned Parenthood’s DelliCarpini-Tolman said that young people who face an unexpected pregnancy usually involve their parents in the decision making, but that’s not always the case.

“Unfortunately, we know that not all young people have a healthy relationship with their parents, not all young people are in healthy households,” she said. “Some of them are in abusive households, and forcing a young person to disclose their pregnancy to a parent can actually lead to abuse for an already vulnerable youth.”

A young woman sitting on a bed holds a pregnancy test stick.
Idaho’s “abortion trafficking” law is set to go into effect in 30 days. (Getty Images)

Both the teen pregnancy rate and the teen abortion rate in the United States have declined substantially over the past several decades, according to Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that studies the well-being of children and youth.

Research by Child Trends shows that as of 2017, teens accounted for just 6% of all pregnancies in the U.S. and 9 percent of abortions, compared to 12% of pregnancies and 17% of abortions nationwide in 2006.

Hannah Lantos, a senior research scientist who studies sexual and reproductive health at Child Trends, told Yahoo News that the new Idaho law could have negative implications for the mental health and general well-being of young people in the state, not only those who may be pregnant.

Lantos explained that it’s important for teenagers to have trusted adults in their lives, whether it’s a parent or other family member, or a nonrelative, like a teacher, coach or religious leader. She suggested that by penalizing adults who seek to help pregnant minors, the new law could undermine that trust and have a chilling effect.

“If we see that the impact of this law in Idaho is that those adults become less trusted, that kids don’t feel like they can turn to these adults who are a stable, reliable presence in their lives, that’s not going to be good for kids,” Lantos said. “And that’s whether or not they’re pregnant.”