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Maea Lenei Buhre
Maea Lenei Buhre
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With abortion now effectively banned in 15 states, many Americans are crossing state lines to legally end pregnancies. Friday, the first state law aimed at ending that option for anyone under 18 went into effect in Idaho. In a story co-produced with the PBS NewsHour, KFF Health News correspondent Sarah Varney takes a look at this new frontier in the movement to outlaw access to legal abortion.
With abortion now effectively banned in 15 states across the country, many Americans are crossing state lines to end pregnancies legally.
Today, a first-of-its-kind state law aiming to end that option for anyone under the age of 18 goes into effect in Idaho.
In a piece co-produced with the "PBS NewsHour," KFF Health News correspondent Sarah Varney takes a look at this new frontier in the movement to outlaw access to legal abortion.
Nestled in Northern Idaho's rolling hills sits the college town of Moscow, home to the University of Idaho.
Mackenzie Davidson, a budding journalist works for the school newspaper, The Argonaut. Her editor asked her to write an editorial on a new law that bans so-called abortion trafficking.
Before you were assigned to write this article, did you know anything about this abortion trafficking ban?
Mackenzie Davidson, Student, University of Idaho: I had heard of it, but I didn't know a whole lot about it.
Did it surprise you that this was even a proposal here to prevent teenagers from leaving the state?
Ever since Roe got overturned, it kind of felt like, every day, you're waking up and more and more of your rights are being taken away.
Idaho has one of the nation's harshest abortion bans. Until now, Moscow residents could drive just a few minutes across the state line to Pullman, Washington, where abortion remains legal.
But, starting today, the new law makes it a crime to help a young woman or girl traveled to get an abortion without her parents' permission.
State Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-ID):
Mr. Speaker, friends, we are only looking to continue to protect our children and our parental rights.
Representative Barbara Ehardt, a Republican, co-sponsored the bill.
State Rep. Barbara Ehardt:
This is only dealing with those who would traffic minors without the consent of the parent.
Mackenzie interviewed Ehardt for the article.
She kept saying that it was about parental rights, and that was the most important thing.
What does it feel like now to be here — I mean, you're 19, but this would have applied to you just a year-and-a-half ago — to try and go across the border?
I have no idea how they plan on enforcing that, because it's not like you can stop everybody that's trying to cross into Pullman.
I'm here at the Idaho-Washington state line. And under the new law here in Idaho, any adult who helps a teenager leave Idaho to terminate a pregnancy will face two to five years in prison. That includes an aunt, a sister, or a brother, or grandmother, and even in cases when the teenage girl has been sexually assaulted.
Even when a parent does give consent, experts say the travel ban creates uncertainty about how prosecutors could interpret the law.
Kelly O’Neill, Legal Voice:
Until we see something come through, I do think there's a lot of leeway for somebody to decide how to charge it.
Kelly O'Neill is the Idaho litigation attorney for Legal Voice, a progressive nonprofit.
You could still be charged arrested, perhaps even have to go all the way to a jury trial an, have to prove your affirmative defense in a courtroom that your sister gave you permission.
Family members of the pregnant minor or the father of the fetus can also sue any health care provider involved.
If you're successful, you're guaranteed a $20,000 minimum. And that's per claim, per relative.
But abortion providers here in Washington are now shielded from those kinds of out-of-state legal threats.
GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA):
There are states across the country that are and will be attempting to put its tentacles into the state of Washington. We will not allow that.
Last week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a bill that bars law enforcement from cooperating with other states' abortion investigations.
KARL EASTLUND, Planned Parenthood:
Yes, we're seeing people from Idaho come almost every day.
Karl Eastlund oversees Planned Parenthood clinics in central and Eastern Washington, including this clinic in Spokane 20 miles from the state line.
Are you concerned that some of your providers, especially those that live in Idaho, are going to be charged criminally for the work that they do everyday here?
We have told our providers, we will handle all of your legal fees, and we will provide lawyers to help you sort out anything that happens. It's something we think about a lot.
He says less than 5 percent of the clinic's patients who come for abortion care are teenagers. Most of them involve their parents, he says, even though that's not mandatory in Washington.
When a teenager can't go to a parent, why is that?
We often get teenagers coming here who are 15 weeks pregnant, 20 weeks pregnant, farther along in their pregnancy than they ever imagined. They didn't even know they were pregnant, many of them, because of abuse. And it's abuse in the home.
We're talking about sexual abuse and incest, which is, unfortunately, a reason many teenagers have to seek abortion.
That's why, Eastlund says, forcing vulnerable teens to tell a parent can put them in danger.
It's going to make it harder for patients who need care of the most to actually get the care that they deserve and need.
But that argument doesn't convince some Idahoans.
Ryan Alexander, Student, University of Idaho College of Law: My parents have always taught me a very important maxim: Two wrongs do not make a right.
Smile for the camera.
Ryan Alexander is a second-year law student in Moscow. He and his wife, Catherine (ph), are raising their daughter, Penelope (ph), in the Catholic faith.
He says ending any pregnancy goes against his beliefs. Ryan supports the travel ban because he says no adult can act in place of a parent.
That's just kidnapping by any — by any means, if you're taking — if you take a girl away from her parents when she's a minor and her parents have authority over her. That's the way our law works.
I asked him about teens who face abuse or have absent parents.
My heart goes out to them. What can I do but pray from a distance and think, how can — how can that be better?
But for girls that are experiencing that now, what would — what would you have them do?
There are many, many, many Americans who view abortion as the taking of a human life, not just taking of human life, but the taking of an innocent human life, a life fully reserved — deserving of dignity and protection.
That wrong is so grievous that it's not worth trying to correct — correct another wrong by doing that, by taking that life.
Two hours north in Sandpoint on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, Jen Jackson Quintano and her husband, Tyler, hope, when their 8-year-old daughter, Sylvie (ph), becomes a teen, she will have trusted adults to turn to.
Jen Jackson Quintano, Resident of Sandpoint, Idaho: And I'm trying to cultivate community here to be in my daughter's life in case there is ever a situation, heaven forbid, where she feels like she can't come to me or her father for help. But at least she's got other adults in her corner that can help her out.
Jen says one reason she opposes the travel ban is because it divides the community.
Sandpoint's community and its cohesiveness is its greatest strength. But laws like this are dividing us. We don't know who to trust. We don't know who we can talk to.
David S. Cohen, Drexel University:
I think this is one of the next frontiers of abortion litigation.
David Cohen is a constitutional law professor at Drexel University. He says, Idaho's law may set a precedent for more restrictions on travel.
David S. Cohen:
People in Idaho who really want to ban abortion aren't going to rest on their laurels because of how easy it is for some people to travel to Washington.
So they're going to want to restrict travel. And they have done that here with minors. And I think, in a matter of year — a couple of years, we're probably going to see that spread to adults too.
Back in Moscow, Mackenzie Davidson believes lawmakers won't stop with teenagers.
I don't think it's really about parental rights. I think it's purely about controlling people that don't conform. I think they do very good job making it seem like it's only going to impact 17-and-under girls, but it's not.
The travel ban is expected to be challenged in the courts. But, for now, Idaho teens are the first in the nation to navigate these new restrictions.
For the "PBS NewsHour" and KFF Health News, I'm Sarah Varney in Moscow, Idaho.
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Maea Lenei Buhre is a general assignment producer for the PBS NewsHour.
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