Health

What It's Like to Get an Abortion in Idaho

The closest clinic was more than 6 hours away, so this woman actually went to another state.
March 22, 2020, 9:34pm
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Collage by Vice Staff | Images via Getty and Shutterstock

Idaho’s abortion policy hasn’t received much stage time in the national debate about reproductive health, but the conservative-led state has, unsurprisingly, some of the more restrictive laws on the books.

Some measures, like one passed in 2018 requiring the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to gather information on abortion-related health complications (exceedingly rare, particularly in the first trimester, when most abortions take place), seem to exist solely to stigmatize the procedure; others, like one proposed but not passed in 2019, seek to punish patients and providers by reclassifying termination as murder. Last year, two Republican representatives tried to repeal the segment of state law that guards people who get abortions and the doctors who perform them against criminal prosecution. They weren’t successful, but the motivating sentiment gives you an idea of the political landscape.

The state has three abortion clinics; Planned Parenthoods located in Boise, Meridian, and Twin Falls. According to the Guttmacher Institute, that leaves 95 percent of Idaho counties—home to about 67 percent of Idaho women—without clinics.

Here’s what Idaho state law says about abortion:

  • Idaho imposes a 24-hour waiting period between the initial consultation and the actual procedure.
  • During the first appointment, the patient must undergo state-mandated counseling with a licensed physician, which includes inaccurate information on medication abortion “reversal” and reminds them that “it is the public policy of the state of Idaho to prefer live childbirth over abortion.”
  • Private insurers and insurers of state employees may cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment. Insurance companies may offer riders to customers at additional cost, however, the Kaiser Family Foundation has not been able to find evidence that any such riders exist.
  • State marketplace plans and Medicaid may cover abortion only when a pregnancy results from rape and/or incest, or endangers the patient’s life.
  • Abortion is banned after viability (~24 to 28 weeks) unless either the woman’s life or the fetus’s life are in danger. A doctor must get a second opinion from another physician to confirm fatality risk, and must do everything possible to keep the fetus alive, if it’s viable.
  • Inducing your own abortion, and/or knowingly soliciting abortion from someone who isn’t a licensed physician, is considered a felony.

How old do you have to be to get an abortion in Idaho?

People under 18 need written consent from one parent, or permission from a judge in what's known as a judicial bypass. The requirement is waived if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

How much does it cost to get an abortion in Idaho?

Cost depends on how far along the pregnancy is and whether or not you have insurance that will cover it. You can ask on the phone before scheduling an appointment what the cost might look like. The National Network of Abortion Funds may be able to help with the cost.

Where can you get an abortion in Idaho?

The Northwest Abortion Access Fund has a list of abortion providers in Idaho.

What is it like seeking an abortion in Idaho?

This is one person's story.

Sophie, 28, is an undocumented immigrant, originally from England. She lives in northern Idaho, hours away from any of the state’s three clinics. She found out she was pregnant in early 2018, despite using contraceptives. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

When did you find out you were pregnant, and when did you decide to get an abortion?

I found out between the very end of winter of 2017. I’m actually an illegal immigrant, and Donald Trump had been elected, and I was dating somebody and I said, Hey, let’s get the ball rolling on this green card process, so we had been married in June of 2017 and we had only been living together about six months. I’m a pretty depressed person in the winter, I was going through a bout of depression so my body didn’t feel right, but I felt like something was a little more off. I was a cook at the time, and I remember one morning frying up sausages on the grill, and the smell was just absolutely overwhelming to me, and I was like, Fuck, I better not be pregnant.

Sure enough, I took a pregnancy test one morning and was like, Holy shit, this happened. I was on birth control, I had taken a preventative measure to not be pregnant, but whatever percentage of people that are unlucky enough to get pregnant on birth control, I was in there. I just couldn’t believe it.

I went and got the pregnancy verified at Planned Parenthood [across the border in Washington], had an ultrasound, and I believe I was only about five weeks along. They gave me my options: I could have a medication abortion and [some time] to think on it, because I didn’t want to make my decision right away. I talked to my partner and it was really fucking hard. We were not prepared to be pregnant and since we’d been on birth control, we hadn’t really considered it. We were not financially ready to bring a child into the world, we were both working full time and barely getting by, and I did not want to put my life on hold to start a family when that’s never really been what I wanted to do anyway.

There is a lot of mental illness in my family, that’s a big thing to consider when you’re thinking about making another person with your genetics. Also, I’ve had multiple procedures done on my cervix, because I had precancerous things removed that would put me at high risk for a pregnancy—it’s more than likely that I wouldn’t be able to carry to full term. And I would have complications from that. We were considering everything: financial stuff, medical stuff, personal history stuff, and then we made our decision, and it was absolutely not.

How much did the abortion cost?

It cost about $500 for these two pills—these two tiny little pills, 500 bucks. I did have insurance at the time, through my work, but in Idaho, you don’t get any money towards that.

I feel like a pretty well-educated person but I was unaware that a medication abortion was something I could do. A lot of people think abortion is always surgical, and that’s a great choice for some people. If I wanted to have the surgical procedure, I would’ve had to go over to Spokane, Washington, which is about an hour-and-a-half away from me. I’m way up in north Idaho, kind of in the panhandle, so I know a lot of women who go to Washington for that kind of thing.

Is it cheaper in Washington?

Yeah, and their state allows you to get a little bit of [insurance] funding. I’ve had three cancerous issues in my cervix, I’ve had a few LEEP procedures, a hot wire loop that scoops all this bad shit out of your cervix. It’s a lot cheaper for me to go all the way over to Washington to get it done, because they offer a little bit of funding [for Planned Parenthood], so at least I get a few hundred bucks taken off of my bill.

How far did you have to travel?

There’s not a Planned Parenthood in Idaho close to me. There’s one in Boise, and that’s about six-and-a-half hours away from me, and there’s one in Twin Falls, which is a couple hours further than that. The closest [clinic] is in Pullman, Washington, right over the border, which is about 20 minutes from me. So that’s where I go to get most of my tests, anything done. That's where I got the medication abortion.

Did you have counseling before you were given the pills?

No, I didn’t have to. I have a pretty good relationship with my doctor there, who was very matter-of-fact about it and said, This is a very normal medical procedure, a lot of women have this done, and I’m sorry that this is expensive and happening to you, but it’s going to be taken care of and you’ll be fine. Here’s what’s to expect. But it was hard. There’s so much stigma attached to it that I had an intense amount of guilt. And I hated that. I hated this battle with myself. I consider myself a very pro-choice person, and [think] people should be able to whatever they want, and I hated that that stigma was getting to me. It sucks to hear that stuff.

Were there protestors at the clinic?

There have been in the past when I’ve been there. I can’t remember on this particular day, but it’s pretty common to see them there. This building had to be moved and they had a new structure built because the first one was burnt in an arson case. And I am in this tiny little liberal pocket of Idaho, but it’s still Idaho. Even when I’ve been to the Spokane, Washington, Planned Parenthood, every single time there’s protesters, and they have a security officer there at all times.

What was the experience of the medication abortion like?

It was like having a really bad period: pretty severe cramping, and I got pretty nauseous, and I remember at one point I was sitting on the toilet, letting this leave my body, and throwing up. I was lucky to have a really awesome partner who did everything for me during that time. I think it’s good to have a support system, and another reason why there shouldn’t be so much stigma around this. I told friends what was happening and I had friends bring me dinner, and friends looking out for me, and friends watching my cats for the night, so I had one less thing to think of. It was painful, but it only lasted about a day, and then things started going back to normal in my body again.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Because of the stigma surrounding the idea of abortion, I didn’t actually realize that there were other ways to access abortion; that a medication abortion could be something I could utilize. These are very, very common medical procedures, and people still want to act like they’re so dangerous and so unsafe and women die from them. So many more women die from childbirth and complications from pregnancy, and people shouldn’t have to go through with something they don’t want to go through.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.