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Thousands of Idaho women cannot travel for abortions due to parole, probation

  Planned Parenthood has clinics in Portland, Eugene and Bend, and plans to open a clinic in Ontario, just across the Idaho border. (Courtesy of Planned Parenthood)
Planned Parenthood has clinics in Portland, Eugene and Bend, and plans to open a clinic in Ontario, just across the Idaho border. (Courtesy of Planned Parenthood)

Abortion rights advocates have noted that people in states like Idaho, which have outlawed nearly all abortions, will soon have to travel across state lines to terminate pregnancies. Planned Parenthood plans to open a new clinic just across the border in Ontario.

But an estimated 5,127 women in Idaho won’t have the option to seek abortion care out of state because of parole or probation, according to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, a research and advocacy organization whose stated mission is to “expose the broader harm of mass criminalization” and “create a more just society.”

There were 4,346 women on probation in Idaho as of 2016, the initiative said. Another 781 were on parole. Idaho requires those women to obtain permission from their supervision officer before leaving the state.

“With the sole authority to approve or deny a trip across state lines for abortion care, a probation or parole officer might choose to prioritize their own personal beliefs about abortion over the desires of the individual under their control,” the report said. “They might also choose to delay the decision until it’s no longer possible — or safe — for the individual they’re supervising to terminate a pregnancy.”

According to Boise State Public Radio reporting, Idaho has the highest female incarceration rate of any state in the country. In the Gem State, 110 per 100,000 women were incarcerated in 2020; a rate more than double the national average, according to the report.

More than 200,000 women are under probation or parole supervision in the states with abortion trigger laws, which outlaw abortions to varying degrees upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to remove a nationwide constitutional right to abortion.

The women whose access to abortion is restricted due to parole or probation are in addition to women for whom travel isn’t an option for cost or other reasons.

Idaho’s abortion trigger law has not yet taken effect; abortions remain legal until at least mid-August. Two lawsuits are pending in the Idaho Supreme Court that challenge Idaho’s trigger law, which makes it a felony to provide or assist in an abortion, and another Idaho law that allows civil lawsuits against women who receive an abortion after their fetus has a heartbeat.

While it is possible to obtain abortion pills by mail through telehealth, providers located in another state who prescribe medication abortions for Idaho patients must have an Idaho license. Their license would be suspended or revoked under the trigger law. (The state waived the telehealth licensing requirement for the COVID-19 emergency, and that waiver expired July 1.)

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.