Republicans Are Trying to Make Abortion About Child 'Trafficking'

Under a new bill in Idaho, it would become a crime to help minors cross state lines for a legal abortion.
Republican state Sen. Todd Lakey is one of the lawmakers behind this new “abortion trafficking bill.” (Lakey for Senate)

Abortion opponents across the country are test-driving new tactics to cut off access to the procedure. In Idaho, one of these tactics has an eye-popping new name: trying to ban “abortion trafficking.”

On Tuesday, the Idaho state House voted to pass a bill that would make it a felony to help minors get abortions without their parents’ knowledge, which the bill deems “abortion trafficking.” Almost all abortions are already banned in Idaho, which means that if a minor wants an abortion in a clinic, they’d have to leave the state and travel to a state like Washington, which lets minors get abortions without parental consent, or Oregon, which lets people over 15 do so. 


But, under this bill, it would even be a crime to help minors cross state lines for a legal abortion—a practice that some abortion foes have labeled “abortion tourism” and made no secret of wanting to stop, even among adults. It would also be illegal to help minors get abortion pills without parents’ knowledge.

If convicted of “abortion trafficking,” someone could not only spend up to five years in jail, but they could be sued by the pregnant person, “the father of the preborn child, a grandparent of the preborn child, a sibling of the preborn child, or an aunt or uncle of the preborn child” for upwards of $20,000, according to the bill. 

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, children who have gotten pregnant through rape but live in states with abortion bans have been forced to travel to end their pregnancies. At least one doctor has already been penalized for helping these victims: After the Indiana-based Dr. Caitlin Bernard helped an Ohio 10-year-old get an abortion, the Indiana attorney general investigated the case and Bernard had to defend herself in front of a judge.

Most Americans do think children should involve their parents in their decisions about whether to get abortions—and research has found that, even in states where children are not required to do so, they often talk to their parents about wanting abortions. But Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, executive director of the reproductive justice-supporting Florida Access Network, told VICE News last month that she expects abortion foes to eventually try to extend these kinds of laws to adults. 

“Young people are used as political fodder to test how laws will look,” Piñeiro said.

Claims of fighting “trafficking,” real or imagined, have also proven popular and become a standard part of the conservative and far-right playbook in the last few years. QAnon holds that its adherents are engaged in a life-or-death battle against sex-trafficking Democratic elites.

The bill was introduced just last week and quickly sped through the House, raising fears among abortion rights activists that the proposal could land on Republican Gov. Brad Little’s desk within a few weeks. Little has previously signed a six-week abortion ban into law, ahead of the overturning of Roe, even after he called the legislation “unwise.” 

This new bill is a slightly watered-down version of a bill that was introduced in early February by Republican state Sen. Cindy Carlson, who, along with Republican state Sen. Todd Lakey, is one of the lawmakers behind this new “abortion trafficking bill.” That legislation also aimed to penalize people from helping minors get abortions. However, rather than use the buzzword “abortion trafficking,” it sought to categorize the practice of helping minors get abortions as “human trafficking.” The bill hasn’t moved on from an Idaho committee.