Illustration depicting a blue Washington state and a red Idaho state with a yellow dotted arrow pointing from Idaho to Washington.

OPINION: Here’s What You Need to Know About Idaho’s 6-Week Abortion Ban

by Megan Burbank

Content Warning: This story includes discussion of sexual assault.

On Wednesday, March 23, a worst-case scenario predicted by abortion rights activists became a reality when Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed into law a policy modeled on SB 8, Texas’ extreme six-week abortion ban. As the first law modeled on SB 8 to be implemented, Idaho’s provision bans abortions after six weeks, and — in a surreal variation on the Texas law — allows providers to be sued for $20,000 by people who might have been family members of babies who might have been born if embryos had been carried to term.

The Idaho Supreme Court has blocked the law from going into effect as planned on April 22, but it reflects a political environment in which abortion-hostile states are quickly moving to criminalize abortion as they anticipate the rollback of Roe v. Wade.

And abortion access in Washington has already been complicated by the passage of laws like Idaho’s. Back in October, the Emerald reported that abortion patients had begun traveling from Texas to Washington State for care after Texas’ law went into effect, setting the stage for Idaho’s copycat legislation.

SB 8 stopped 85% of abortion procedures in Texas, and demand for abortion care in surrounding states skyrocketed as a result. “Having already seen patients from Texas, we know Washington will become a haven for patients from the several dozen states where abortion access may be eliminated in 2022,” Planned Parenthood’s Lisa Humes-Schulz told the Emerald at the time. “The reality is that this influx of patients may increase wait times for Washington patients seeking care.”

We’re seeing the beginning of that heightened influx now. And the burden of care left to states like Washington, Oregon, and California is only likely to grow in the coming months.

There’s no way to know exactly what this will look like, but even if it doesn’t go into effect, Idaho’s law reflects a trend among anti-abortion policies, which historically have often included language protecting abortion access for victims of sexual assault. Idaho’s new law theoretically includes such an exception, but it relies on documentation from law enforcement, an unrealistic standard given how rarely sexual assault is actually reported. And if a person becomes pregnant after a sexual assault and ends the pregnancy, they could be sued under the law by family members of the person who assaulted them. 

It’s no surprise that the law was blocked, given that even the conservative governor who signed off on it raised concerns. In a letter to the state’s lieutenant governor, Little expressed fear that “the novel civil enforcement mechanism will in short order be proven both unconstitutional and unwise.”

Though its reasoning differed, the White House agreed, and on March 23 it issued an oppositional statement from press secretary Jen Psaki, who compared Idaho’s new law to SB 8, which she said had had “profoundly negative effects — with women forced to travel hundreds of miles to access care, and clinics in neighboring states seeing a significant increase in demand since the law went into effect,” a situation she described as “unacceptable.”

But even blocked by the court, policies like Idaho’s new law are indicative of a wider national trend toward new and increasingly bizarre restrictions on abortions, the people who have them, and the people who support them. Missouri’s State Legislature, for example, is considering a bill intended to prevent residents from leaving the state for abortion care through Texas-style lawsuits. (Missouri has also embraced such medically unsound policies as trying to ban treatments for ectopic pregnancies; these nonviable pregnancies are treated through termination and can be life-threatening without intervention.)

If you only paid attention to what the Missouri legislature is doing — or to some of the more absurd questions asked of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearings — you might think that the United States wants to criminalize abortion as a whole.

But it isn’t true.

The same week that Idaho’s law went into effect, Seattle’s MacKenzie Scott, whose generosity is turning out to be the inverse negative of her former husband’s corporate greed, made a donation of $275 million to Planned Parenthood — the largest the organization has ever received.

Public opinion polling shows that most Americans support abortion rights, and states like Washington and Oregon are fighting for them.

Over this year’s legislative session in Olympia, lawmakers passed the Affirm Washington Abortion Access Act, which officially recognizes advanced-practice clinicians like nurse practitioners as abortion providers; they already commonly provided abortion care, and the law ensures that they can continue. The law also updates the State’s legal code with gender-neutral language and contains a provision that’s essentially the opposite of Texas’: Along with pregnant people, the law protects from criminalization anyone who facilitates abortion care.

In Oregon, lawmakers have also established a $15 million Oregon Reproductive Equity Fund, which will provide financial and logistical support to patients seeking abortion care in the state. Numerous grassroots abortion funds already provide this type of support, but the State’s involvement and the amount earmarked are novel developments on top of Oregon’s existing State Medicaid coverage for abortion care, a practice shared in Washington. 

Building up support and resources like this could meaningfully address gaps in care and even set a new standard for how states can bolster abortion access. It also provides a powerful counternarrative to what’s happening in Idaho and beyond — one that anticipates the need to provide care for patients who may not live where we do but who deserve the same freedom from harmful policies that dehumanize pregnant people and trivialize sexual assault.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Megan Burbank is a writer and editor based in Seattle. Before going full-time freelance, she worked as an editor and reporter at the Portland Mercury and The Seattle Times. She specializes in enterprise reporting on reproductive health policy, and stories at the nexus of gender, politics, and culture.

📸 Featured image by Emerald staff.

Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. 
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. 
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!