The U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn federal protections for abortion won’t affect the practice in Oregon and Washington, but it will in Idaho. The court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision triggered an Idaho law passed two years ago that will only allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, or if the life of the “mother” is in immediate danger. James Dawson, who covers politics and government for Boise State Public Radio, joined Tiffany Camhi on “All Things Considered” to discuss how the ruling will affect people seeking an abortion in his state.
This is a lightly edited version of their conversation:
Tiffany Camhi: Thanks for joining us, James. When will the Idaho law go into effect?
James Dawson: The dates are a little bit squishy right now because – and I didn’t know this until Friday – but that opinion that we all see published? That’s apparently not the final final version. ... But they will eventually print off and issue a completely final ruling, and that’s when the 30-day countdown for Idaho’s law to take effect will begin. And so the attorney general’s office here told me on Friday they expect that to be sometime in late August.
Camhi: I know that you reported that there are still some caveats to those exceptions [to Idaho’s abortion ban]. And again, those exceptions are rape, incest and mother’s health. Can you explain what those caveats are?
Dawson: Yes. And to be more specific, it’s not even the health of the mother, it’s only conditions that would threaten the mother’s life. So for instance, if a mother’s mental condition would cause her to have suicidal thoughts, that cannot be used as an excuse to get an abortion.
Rape and incest have their own specific provisions, ... where the woman would have to report it to police, first of all, which is a controversial notion among sexual assault survivors. But then you also have to provide a copy of that police report to the doctor who would perform an abortion in Idaho, which advocates also say is nearly impossible to get, because during ongoing investigations law enforcement does not release that information. So it potentially could render those exceptions meaningless.
Camhi: What has the conversation been like on the ground in Idaho since Friday?
Dawson: As you can imagine, anti-abortion advocates have just been cheering the decision, since this really caps a nearly 50-year effort to try to not only bring control over abortion back to individual states, but to block it as much as possible. So they’re extremely happy. You know, all of our elected officials statewide are Republicans, as are four members of Congress. And they all had statements saying [something along the lines of], “this is great, I’m pro-life.”
But as for pro-abortion rights folks, it’s devastating. You could hear the emotion in their voice when we were on press phone calls with Planned Parenthood folks, and just everyday people who turned up to protest. ... There were several demonstrations here in Boise really decrying the decision.
NPR just put out a poll earlier today saying that 56% of Americans disagree with the decision compared to 40% who support the Supreme Court’s choice.
Camhi: Shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a Planned Parenthood branch here in Portland announced that it plans to open a new clinic in Ontario, Oregon, near the border of Idaho. Do you have a sense of how many patients from Idaho this new clinic could see?
Dawson: I really don’t. ... The latest statistics we have from the health department from 2020 show that roughly about 2,000 people in Idaho got abortions that year. And there were three clinics operated by Planned Parenthood – here in Boise, in a suburb, Meridian, and then in Twin Falls. Now the Boise and Meridian clinics have merged, and they say they plan to stay open for other health screenings and such.
But, you know, I’m not sure how big this Ontario clinic is or what their capacity would look like. It’s about an hour drive west of Boise. I’m not sure if that will divert or be able to handle that many people. If you live more in the northern part of the state, going to Spokane or potentially Pullman over in Washington could be options as well.
Camhi: James, thank you for your reporting.
Since we recorded this conversation, a regional arm of Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit against Idaho over the state’s law banning most abortions. The abortion-rights group says the 2020 law violates the Idaho constitution.