Idaho abortion law claims first casualty: childbirth services in North Idaho | Opinion

Last week, Bonner General Health, Sandpoint’s only hospital, announced that it will soon cease delivering babies. No new obstetrics patients are being accepted, effective immediately.

The hospital cited multiple reasons for the decision which lawmakers do not control, including the local cost of living. But there was one factor squarely in the Legislature’s wheelhouse.

“The Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care,” the hospital said in a press release. “Consequences for Idaho physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines.”

This is not confined to abortion.

Last week, Rep. Judy Boyle and Sen. Tammy Nichols were hawking a bill to put doctors in jail if they administer COVID-19 vaccines. This has become the new favorite legislative tool of the far-right: If you disagree with their opinions, put them in jail.

Idaho’s abortion laws are so badly written — and were conceived in such bad faith — that doctors face a serious risk of crippling lawsuits in response to providing routine, standard care for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and other conditions. Despite assertions from anti-abortion activists to the contrary, when a federal judge examined the laws currently in effect in Idaho, he found that they would bar ectopic pregnancy care, so he barred enforcement of the abortion ban in emergency situations.

At issue here is not simply banning abortion but doing it in the utterly incompetent ways the Legislature has. Lawmakers who have waded into legislating on medical matters are generally entirely ignorant about them and have not sought out medical expertise to guide them.

Doctors have been waving red flags about these problems for years now and been ignored.

The Legislature banned abortion in the most draconian way possible — in part, because it did so in 2020 when Roe v. Wade was still binding — because it was engaged in political messaging rather than careful lawmaking. When the trigger ban was passed, it was entirely theoretical. But now it’s in effect, and there has been little serious effort to monitor its effects and write a better law.

“As the medical director of women’s health care at St. Luke’s Health System, I am witnessing first-hand the impact of these laws on all physicians who give advice and care to pregnant women,” Dr. John Werdel wrote in a guest column last week. “These providers are terrified and constantly second-guessing their decisions. Not because of the restrictions on broad access to abortion, but because they can no longer safely manage and advise their patients who have pregnancy complications.”

Taking this approach not only ends abortion but drives care providers out of the state. Because if you can provide the same care in Washington or Wyoming or Montana, but not face the same risk, it’s not a hard choice.

And that’s how the health care desertification of Idaho has begun.

Can you see the warning lights flashing, Idaho lawmakers? Pay heed to them now, before it’s too late.

Your political career will survive a little backlash from anti-abortion activists in response to loosening Idaho’s laws. They may not like repealing the bounty law. They might buy some nasty mailers to run against you if you sit down with hospitals and rewrite the trigger ban to ensure that they feel secure providing standard care for miscarriages and nonviable pregnancies.

You face nasty mailers every election cycle. It’s not the end of the world.

On the other hand, when an infant or mother dies driving down the highway because the closest hospital had to shut down its OB/GYN services, the survivors will despise you for the rest of their lives.

And you will deserve their scorn. Because right now you have the opportunity to stop it from happening. If you don’t get it done, you own the consequences.

And if the rest of the state starts going in the direction of Bonner County, that will become an increasingly common experience.

Fix this disaster before irreparable damage takes place.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser.