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COMMENTARY: Criminalizing abortion not compassionate

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| July 13, 2022 1:00 AM

By the end of the short Idaho summer, any physician performing or assisting an abortion in Idaho will be a criminal. The punishment is no less than two years in prison. Their license will be suspended for at least six months on the first offense, and permanently on the second.

What then is the compassionate choice for a doctor who is face-to-face with a woman who is nauseated and in pain with an unviable pregnancy? Or who requires emergency surgery to evacuate a bleeding ectopic pregnancy? Or who longs for a child, but has miscarried and her body won’t naturally pass the fetus? Or who feels she is not mature enough or hasn’t got sufficient resources to raise a child at the moment? Or who is the victim of incest? Each of these scenarios requires an abortion. But the health care provider can’t break the law.

What, then, is the compassionate thing to do?

Abortion care that is denied or delayed results in more midterm and improperly performed illegal abortions. The number of abortion-related complications, including hemorrhages and infections, will certainly rise. We will see more maternal hospitalizations and deaths. The U.S. already has the highest such rate among developed nations. (WHO Key Facts, Nov. 2021)

The new law shows even less regard for an Idaho woman's life and liberty. Lawmakers actually carved out specific language that addresses women so traumatized that they are considering suicide. “No abortion shall be deemed necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman because the physician believes that the woman may or will take action to harm herself.” (Idaho Code 18-622.5).

Imagine knowing that a woman might be considering self harm or suicide because of the trauma of pregnancy that follows rape, incest or abandonment. And still, making specific law to criminalize her quest for an abortion.

Idaho lawmakers imagined that exact scenario, and passed a law that scoffed at it.

To be fair, Idaho’s trigger law does address rape or incest. The only legal abortion in Idaho is one where a raped woman presents a copy of a police report she filed after the rape to the doctor.

But for anyone who has experienced the trauma of rape, this is sickening. Rape and shame are hand in glove: One cannot exist without the other. Between the hope of forgetting it ever happened, and the nagging feeling that it was “her fault,” and the fear of not being believed, the victim’s first urge isn’t immediately recounting their most horrible moments to a stranger in a police station. Most women don’t share their stories for years, if ever.

At least Idaho lawmakers were wise enough to not criminalize the mother for the abortion. Idaho’s trigger law indemnifies the mother, and places the full consequences and jail time on the doctor.

So where does that leave us now? The Guttmacher Institute predicts that criminalizing abortion will increase poverty.

Idahoans who travel to Washington, or elsewhere, for abortion care will face additional costs. Those who carry their pregnancies to term will be less able to participate in the work force and will remain dependent on public support for food and health care (including mental health if that is ever enacted). The rates of personal bankruptcies and evictions and homelessness among young women will all rise. Women who lose abortion access will attain less education and achieve less career advancement. They will be less likely to achieve financial security or independence.

What must we do?

If Idaho won’t legalize abortion, Idaho must at least show compassion for women and the children they will have to bear. Idaho must expand educational opportunities and job training for single mothers. Idaho must expand financial support and health care for dependent children. Idaho must create, staff, and fund robust support systems for battered women. And Idaho must expand and formalize sex education throughout public and private schools.

On a personal level, Idahoans must commit themselves to offering financial, emotional and logistical support to any friend or loved one who needs an abortion. Idaho adults must teach young people about effective birth control and the physical, legal, emotional, and moral responsibilities connected with sexual intercourse.

Becoming activists for Idaho’s victims of the Roe decision is, now, the only compassionate choice.

Evan Koch is the chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

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