Spread the love

A singular fight against the criminalization of abortion in Idaho

Photo: Fabien Deglise Le Devoir In northern Idaho, Jen Jackson Quintano has dared to speak publicly about abortion for months, in a politically hostile environment that dreams of criminalizing this medical practice.

Fabien Deglise in Sandpoint, Idaho

Published at 6:30 a.m. Updated at 3:52 p.m.

  • United States

Donald Trump's first election in 2016 accelerated the trend, his return to the electoral race in 2024 will further fan the flames of resentment and division in the United States. A fragile environment where difficulties in dialogue and fear of compromise, coupled with radical and narrow-minded ideological postures, now threaten one of the foundations of the country: the unity of its states.

There's always a little straw that breaks the camel's back. And for Jen Jackson Quintano, who runs a tree-trimming business with her husband, that little drop fell 10 years ago on a public market day in Sandpoint, in rural northern Idaho.

“I was pregnant with my daughter,” recalls the forty-year-old. “When I arrived at the market, anti-abortion activists accosted me with their gory images of fetuses. It made me feel sick. At the time, you saw them everywhere. Outside schools. At the market. They were the ones who occupied the narrative terrain on abortion, with their simplistic message: “It’s murder.” In my past, I had to have an abortion, and this, in a complicated context. And there, I was assaulted by their discourse, without nuance and empathy, and that’s when I decided that things were going to change.”

Jen Jackson Quintano does not have the obvious profile of an activist. At first glance, at least. In the rural environment where she lives, we imagine her with a chainsaw in hand, climbing trees to manage the development of the generous forests of this region, or at the wheel of her pick-up driving to a hunting party between lakes and mountains, a sport that she practices, firearm in hand, during her free time.

And yet, at 44 years old, it is in this universe that this free spirit loving nature and the outdoors gave birth to the Pro-Voice Project, an organization which seeks to free women's voices on the abortions they have suffered in order to better combat the stigma, shame and silence. A major challenge, not only in a state which, since 2022, has adopted the most restrictive laws regarding termination of pregnancy in the country, but also in a part of Idaho known for the extremism of its conservatives, its armed militias, religious white supremacists and anti-government activists with anger stoked and normalized by former President Donald Trump.

“During the pandemic, real estate agents sold the area to conservatives across the country as a refuge from liberal and health policies elsewhere,” says Jen Jackson Quintano sitting in her organization's office on Main Street in Sandpoint. This increased their presence in the region. »

She adds: “All the elements came together to make my approach a dangerous activity, both for me and for my family. But so far, the few altercations I've had have been mild. » She recalls emails calling her a “child killer,” comments on social media denouncing her liberal views on the issue and calling on God to set her straight.

< p>“A few days ago we had an activity at a theater in McCall [small village further south]. A full house two nights in a row,” she continues. The Pro-Voice Project featured actresses reading the testimonies of women who had experienced abortion in the great game of life and human relationships. There were also experts in law, medicine and a member of the clergy responsible for shedding light on the multiple and complex facets of this surgical intervention to better ward off hasty moral judgments and blind condemnations on the matter. “Yes, demonstrators were at the door protesting, praying, singing, but without trying to interrupt the event or prevent people from entering. And it’s a respect that always surprises me a little. »

A singular fight against the criminalization of abortion in Idaho

Photo: Fabien Deglise Le Devoir As you approach Sandpoint, the billboards set the tone of the radical ideology that has gripped the region in recent years.

Open door to the worst

Abortion is advancing in a minefield in Idaho since its first criminalizing laws this medical procedure, which dates from the 1950s, a framework dusted off in August 2022, two months after the invalidation by the Supreme Court of the United States of the decision Roe v. Wade. In essence, the decision of the highest court in the country placed the legal framework for this health care in the hands of the States. The Potato State has taken the narrower route by criminalizing abortion upon fertilization, with rare, strictly defined exceptions in cases of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger.

The decisions of obstetricians are, however, open to challenge, by state authorities, from the family of a person who has an abortion, and even from that of a rapist causing the pregnancy, but not by the rapist himself. This framework places doctors under constant threat of prosecution, imprisonment and license revocation, with consequences that have been felt quickly.

Three departments of obstetrics have closed their doors in the state for the past year, due to a lack of enough doctors to keep them running. Idaho lost a total of 25 gynecologists in just one year, all of whom left to practice in neighboring states that are more permissive in terms of abortion. Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado…

Ironically, the first service to fall was Bonner General Health in Sandpoint in the spring of 2023 after its four women's health specialists left, forcing 50,000 patients to now do more an hour's drive to Coeur d'Alene to receive obstetric and gynecological care or to give birth.

Even though Idaho's maternal and infant mortality rates climbed 122% and 18%, respectively, between 2019 and 2021, according to the latest data from Idaho Kids Covered, the state's Republican elected officials are not giving up. Last year, they even sought to remove rape and incest from the exceptions to abortion access, closely following the abolitionist principles of the Danbury Institute, a coalition of Christian groups claiming to be in favor of “life and liberty” and who dreams of completely eradicating abortion from the American medical and social landscape.

In Idaho, the measure was partly defended by Senator Scott Herndon, who said that rape could also be seen as “an opportunity to have a child in these terrible circumstances, if the rape did indeed take place,” the Idaho Capitol Sun. Mr. Herndon represents the state's District 1, which includes Sandpoint and the greater region.

A singular fight against the criminalization of abortion in Idaho

Photo: Fabien Deglise Le Devoir In Sandpoint, conservative political positions are exposed through words, votes and a few doormats in front of houses.

Forced radicalization

“The impressive participation in the Pro-Voice Project events clearly shows that most voters in Idaho are not on the same page as elected officials on this issue,” said Wendy Heipt, a human rights lawyer with the organization Legal Voice, which also helps Idaho women, in an interview.

Earlier this year, a longitudinal survey by the Idaho Policy Institute and the University of Boise showed that 58 percent of the state supported changing abortion laws to make it easier access. Worse, 43% believe the state is now on the wrong track. The new restrictive legal framework surrounding abortions is one of the sources of pessimism mentioned by respondents.

“The current bans go too far in Idaho, beyond this what people want, notes Mack Smith of the Alliance of Planned Parenthood Advocates, a federal agency active in several states where abortion has been put under pressure by extremist policies, such as in Idaho. Patients are being placed between life and death by these political decisions, and despite calls for elected officials to reckon with the harm they have caused, the current legislature continues to ignore their demands. »

“Idaho voters will certainly mobilize [in November's elections] to show this extremist Idaho Republican faction that they no longer have the support of the majority of the population.” adds Wendy Heipt.

To (re)read

  • Divided, US Supreme Court considers Idaho abortion ban
  • Victory for the abortion pill at the US Supreme Court
  • What status will the fetus transferred into an artificial uterus have ?
  • Restrictions have increased since the death of Roe v. Wade, the number of abortions too

This road is undoubtedly beginning to be paved in northern Idaho, where, on May 21, Senator Scott Herndon, an abolitionist who believes that abortion is a homicide that should be punishable by death, was defeated during the Republican Party primary for the November elections. His replacement chosen by the Republicans, Jim Woodward, was senator from the same district before him. He also voted for anti-abortion laws in the state, but now admits to underestimating their negative consequences on people's lives.

Coincidence or coincidence: the man has, in recent months, accepted several invitations from the Pro-Voice Project and has also participated in speaking evenings on abortion organized by Jen Jackson Quintano.

< p>“This is the objective of our project: to plow the soil to make it more fertile for messages calling on recipients to consider abortion as health care and a human right,” says the latter. We also want to show that it is okay to talk about it positively and even to put up a sign on your property calling for respect for the law. » To date, the Pro-Voice Project has distributed more than 400 across the state. Above it it says: “Abortion is health care. »

“On the surface, the issue appears to be divisive, particularly in an area like northern Idaho. But it’s crazy to see how, ultimately, it’s a subject that can also be unifying. A few weeks ago, in Boise, in a packed 450-seat room, I asked who had had an abortion or knew someone in their family or entourage who had had an abortion. Almost all hands went up,” she concluded.

Also read

  • All the texts of Devoir in the United States< /li>

This report was financed with the support of the Transat-Le Devoir International Journalism Fund.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116