Content warning: Discussion of rape, incest and related topics
One month ago, the Supreme Court dismissed an emergency request to block Texas’ controversial abortion law — allowing the ban to take effect within the state on Sept. 1 and leaving millions of Americans stunned and apprehensive over the fate of Roe v. Wade.
The introduction of anti-abortion legislation — also referred to as “heartbeat bills” — has gained traction among Republican legislatures following decade-long embattlements seeking to challenge Roe’s legal precedent. Currently, 17 states including Idaho have passed “trigger laws” that would outlaw abortion should the 1973 ruling be overturned.
On April 27, 2021, Gov. Brad Little signed into law House Bill 366 (HB 366), which bans nearly all abortions following the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The legislation’s “trigger” will allow this ban to take effect 30 days after a U.S. federal appellate court affirms the constitutionality of a similar piece of legislation.
Idaho’s trigger law is similar to Texas’ ban in that they both prevent abortion following the detection of cardiac activity, which takes place around six weeks after conception and long before many individuals know they are pregnant.
However, Texas’ anti-abortion legislation is notably stricter. While HB 366 excludes cases of rape and incest, Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8) makes no exceptions for such instances.
SB 8 also shifts the responsibility of enforcement from the state of Texas to private citizens, allowing them to “sue Texas abortion providers who violate the law, as well as anyone who ‘aids or abets’ a woman getting the procedure,” according to AP News. As such, parties who are found in violation of this law will face civil penalties amounting upward of $10,000 in damages.
Individuals receiving an abortion cannot themselves be sued under SB 8, though private citizens are still able to file lawsuits against the physicians involved regardless of whether the person suing has a connection to the abortion patient.
As of now, abortion is still legal in Idaho. However, the now-active ban in Texas has left some Idahoans worried about the future of their bodily and reproductive autonomy.
“I think, like me, most folks were almost in shock and disbelief that it had come to this,” said Melissa Wintrow, a state senator representing Idaho’s 19th district. “To think about folks just being callously set loose as a bounty on people as they’re trying to get healthcare in the privacy of their doctor’s office is pretty draconian.”
Sen. Wintrow is a vocal critic of the abortion bills being passed through the Idaho Legislature. In particular, she finds the supposed rape and incest exceptions to be disingenuous, as an individual must navigate through numerous levels of bureaucracy before being allowed an abortion.
HB 366 requires an individual seeking an abortion to report the rape or incestuous act to law enforcement, then present a copy of the police report to the physician performing the procedure. However, the Idaho Public Records Act prohibits the release of information from active investigations. This means that an investigation must conclude before the necessary documents can be provided, blocking the report from moving forward.
It takes an average of 86 days for an arrest to be made for a sex crime according to an Idaho sexual violence report from 2016, meaning a patient could already be in their second trimester before being granted abortion access.
Another concern presented by Wintrow is the number of rapes that go unreported and, therefore, can’t qualify for the exemption. Statistics released by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) show that more than 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported.
Furthermore, only 4% of Idaho’s reported rapes result in a guilty disposition for the perpetrator.
“The thing that is deeply troubling to me is that, you know, the world and our lives are very complex, and there are many shades of gray,” Wintrow said, “and to think about everything in a black and white way is unreasonable. It sets up extremes.”
Democratic legislators like Wintrow aren’t the only ones joining the fight against anti-abortion legislation.
The 2021 Idaho Rally for Abortion Justice took place virtually on Saturday, Oct. 2., and among the lineup of speakers was Sara LaWall — a Unitarian Universalist minister and staunch advocate of abortion rights.
Reverend LaWall is affiliated with the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (BUUF), “an inclusive, spiritually diverse, justice-seeking, religious community, with one great aim: to help people grow in love for neighbor, love for self, love for … community and the world, and love for the earth,” according to BUUF’s website.
“Our reproductive choices are deeply sacred choices that honor life, honor freedom, honor dignity and religious liberty,” LaWall said. “Abortion justice is for all of us who want freedom over our own bodies, our own health care, our own identity. We will never stop fighting. We will never stop praying.”
Student organizations at Boise State are also getting involved in the conversation.
Riley Anderson is a senior kinesiology major and student leader with Generation Action at Boise State, a Planned Parenthood affiliate that enables college advocates to create awareness for reproductive and sexual health.
Growing up in Washington, a dominantly Blue state, Anderson was surrounded by positive discussions relating to abortion access and reproductive health.
In the Red state of Idaho, however, engaging in these conversations is fraught with uncertainty.
“Going up to people, you just don’t know what response you’re gonna get,” Anderson said. “I think both sides’ views are important, but we have an idea of what we support and what we think is constitutional … I think we’re just striving to strike those conversations.”
Anderson also expressed her concerns regarding the upward trajectory of anti-abortion legislation throughout the country.
“Personally, I think abortion is health care,” Anderson said. “There should never be a service taken away when it is someone’s body that you’re talking about … there’s no reason why someone should lose bodily autonomy, and especially when it goes to the extent of, you know, like with the Texas bill.”
The fate of abortion access across the United States remains uncertain at this time, though the long-awaited conclusion to this tempestuous debate may soon be in sight.
On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a case from the state of Mississippi that directly challenges Roe v. Wade.
Although the outcome of this case now rests in the hands of America’s highest court, Sen. Wintrow still encourages individuals to make their voices heard on this topic by engaging with elections.
“I think it’s essential that if people oppose [these laws], you’ve got to still share your voice — you’ve got to be counted,” Wintrow said. “My mother always said, ‘Don’t let it be that you never told someone’ … I think if more people did come out and vote, it would matter.”