Health

One year after Roe’s reversal, where does abortion stand in Idaho?

By James Dawson (Boise State Public Radio)
June 23, 2023 5:23 p.m.

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the longstanding precedent of Roe v. Wade.

That decision ushered in a patchwork of laws, with each state deciding for themselves how they would regulate abortions.

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As Idaho implemented a near-total ban on the procedure, lawmakers and interest groups have been negotiating tweaks to the law that doctors say are necessary to protect pregnant women and themselves.

Hundreds of pro-abortion rights advocates rallied in front of the Idaho Capitol Saturday May 14, 2022. They were protesting a leaked opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that's poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a constitutional right to the procedure.

Hundreds of pro-abortion rights advocates rallied in front of the Idaho Capitol Saturday May 14, 2022. They were protesting a leaked opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that's poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a constitutional right to the procedure.

James Dawson / Boise State Public Radio

Abortions are only allowed in Idaho in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is threatened. That last piece is what’s driven months-worth of talks to slightly loosen when it’s acceptable for doctors to perform the procedure.

Anti-abortion rights advocates torpedoed one bill in March that would’ve allowed abortions to treat a physical condition if not doing so would be life-threatening to the mother.

Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot) outlined these arguments during a legislative hearing earlier this year.

“We want to make sure that ‘health of the mother’ doesn’t become so broad that everything becomes an exception to take the life of a potential child,” Young said.

In Idaho, this means almost all abortions in the state are illegal.

Ultimately, the bill that did pass gave doctors more legal cover to perform an abortion to save the life of a mother, though John Werdel, an OB-GYN for St. Luke’s, said more needs to be done.

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“It just doesn’t go quite far enough to reassure physicians and stabilize our workforce,” Werdel said.

Young asked Werdel and other doctors to compile a list of medical conditions that threaten a mother’s health during pregnancy for future negotiations.

Democratic Rep. Brooke Green said she’s skeptical about a future bill’s chances.

“If we can’t fix it, and I will say this, in a non-election year, I guarantee you we’re not going to be able to fix it next year,” Green said.

At least two rural hospitals in Idaho have closed their delivery rooms.

Valor Health in Emmett said in a news release in March that staffing shortages partially led to that decision, along with decreased demand.

“It has been increasingly difficult and unsustainably expensive to recruit and retain a full team of high-quality, broad-spectrum nurses to work in a rural setting where nurses need to be proficient in many different fields,” the hospital said in a statement.

Bonner General Hospital directly cited Idaho’s “legal and political climate” as one factor that led it to halt its obstetrics department.

“…the Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care,” according to a news release from the hospital.

Meanwhile, clinics in nearby states are expanding abortion access.

Planned Parenthood’s Ontario, Oregon location currently only offers medication abortions, though a spokesperson says it plans to perform surgical abortions beginning in August.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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