Despite bans, organizations help Idahoans access abortions: 'Ultimately, it's unstoppable'
As Idahoans adjust to the reality of abortion bans, local and national organizations are offering resources to navigate the state’s new confusing legal landscape.
On the one year anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, activist Kimra Luna stood at a podium on the steps of the Idaho capitol surrounded by supporters.
“Abortion pills are safe and I want to prove that to you right now,” they said, reaching into their pocket and holding their cupped hand up for the crowd to see.
“This is a pill. It's very little, and anybody in Idaho can get access to it,” they said as they popped the pill into their mouth and took a swig of water.
“I'm taking it today to show that it's safe. I'm actually not even pregnant, but I wanted to ensure that people here know that you can get abortion pills safely online.”
When Roe v. Wade was repealed in 2022, most abortions were banned in Idaho with limited exceptions for incest and rape victims or when the life of the mother is threatened. But women and pregnant people can still request abortion pills and have them mailed to Idaho, although the legality of those alternative networks remains murky.
“The reality is that most Idahoans are getting access to abortion pills online, and many are managing their abortions safely at home,” Luna added.
According to the abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, almost 1,700 women had legal abortions in Idaho in 2020, half of which were done with medication. The Department of Health and Welfare reports only three legal abortions were performed in Idaho since the bans went into effect.
In their speech, Luna said Idaho Abortion Rights has provided abortion pills to 600 Idahoans in the last year. The Food and Drug Administration says abortifacients like the pill Luna took can safely induce an abortion up to 10 weeks into pregnancy.
“We sometimes see claims that these abortion bans have been successful in reducing the numbers of abortions in this country and we do not believe that,” said Elisa Wells, a public health researcher and co-founder of the nonprofit Plan C, a website that shares online resources for people seeking self-managed chemical abortions in the U.S., including in states where they are banned.
“Each terrible action that courts and legislatures are taking is the best advertising for abortion pills, abortion by mail, and these alternate networks that exist to help people in the face of this injustice,” she said.
While legal abortions are limited here, clinics in neighboring states have seen a surge of patients coming from Idaho. But traveling is not available to everyone.
“Can you imagine if you’re a pregnant person, and you need help, how complicated that is to figure out,” Wells said.
She wants people to know they can look up options on Plan C, and reach out to organizations like Aidaccess.org or Idaho Abortion Rights, but she said there is a risk of criminalization for both providers of mail-in pills and those who take them. Those risks are unclear and depend on the location of all parties involved.
Medical providers in Idaho can’t prescribe abortion pills anymore, but can they refer someone to go to Washington or Oregon, where abortions are still allowed? What are the legal ramifications of a patient receiving pills from out-of-state and taking them in the privacy of their own home?
Until then and under Idaho statute, women are not criminally liable for getting abortions, only providers can face prosecution.
“Those mutual aid societies are treading on pretty thin ice by making available illegal abortion pills to women in the state of Idaho,” said Blaine Conzatti, the president of Idaho Family Policy Center.
The Christian group helped draft Idaho’s heartbeat law and No Public Funds for Abortion law before the repeal of Roe v. Wade. They also supported the abortion trafficking law recently blocked by a federal judge in a lawsuit brought against it by Planned Parenthood. Conzatti said there are legal precedents to prosecuting people in jurisdictions outside state lines.
“California, Oregon and Washington would be negligent in their responsibilities under our reciprocal agreements with those states if they refuse to extradite abortionists or other unlawful actors to the state of Idaho,” he said.
As some states across the country restrict access, the U.S. Postal Service said it would not try to prevent people from sending abortion pills through the mail, regardless of destination. In December, the FDA lifted a requirement that abortion drugs be administered in a clinical setting. And while abortion pills require a prescription, they are not a controlled substance.
“It is certainly possible for an out-of state suspect who produces or sends an abortion-inducing drug to somebody inside Idaho and thereby causes that abortion that out-of-stater could be criminally liable, in theory, in Idaho,” said Wayne Unger, a professor of law at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
He said historically, states have cooperated to help prosecute suspects across state lines, but the divisive national landscape of abortion rights complicates things.
“Ultimately, we don't know,” he added.
Idaho statutes say individuals not licensed as health care providers who provide a drug that causes a pregnancy to be terminated can be charged with a felony, but the statutes do not have jurisdiction on out-of-state providers.
“The general principle is Idaho cannot criminalize conduct that happens outside their borders, just like any other state,” Unger said.
The reality of these bans will only be brought into focus if and when state prosecutors choose to litigate individual cases, he said.
Until then and under Idaho statute, women are not criminally liable for getting abortions, only providers can face prosecution. While the statutes themselves have been challenged in court, no prosecutors have brought charges against individuals for violating these new bans.
“The homicide laws, the abortion laws of the state of Idaho give immunity to mothers who self-induced abortions,” confirmed Conzzatti. “There is no cause of action under any of those statutes that would allow a criminal prosecutor to bring a criminal action against such a mother,” he added.
In the meantime, Planned Parenthood is putting up billboards informing Idahoans of their legal out-of-state abortion options. One such banner reads, “It is legal for Idaho adults and minors to access out-of-state abortion care in Oregon and Washington.”
Stickers promoting Plan C, Aidaccess.org and Idaho Abortion Rights continue to pop up around Boise, slapped on telephone poles and inside public restroom stalls.
“Going forward, I think we need to build a culture of life,” said Conzatti. “And once we do that, we can come back to the question of to what extent mothers should be held liable when they induce abortions and end the lives of their pre-born babies.”
Wells says she isn’t holding her breath hoping the bans will be repealed anytime soon but Plan C will continue to offer alternatives to people in restrictive states.
“We do think that the resistance movement for abortion pills by mail will prevail,” she said. “Ultimately it's unstoppable.”
The State is currently fielding several lawsuits against its multiple abortion bans. The Attorney General’s office did not respond to requests to comment.
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