As of this week, Idaho has become the first state in the nation to pass copycat legislation mimicking Texas’ near-total abortion ban, which is enforced by empowering citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who helped someone get an abortion for at least $10,000. There’s just one minor difference between the two bans: Idaho’s bill allows only the father of the fetus or his immediate family members, rather than any random person, to sue those who help someone have an abortion or the abortion provider for at least $20,000.
Notably, Idaho’s ban allows rapists and their family members to essentially profit off their victim’s pregnancy, giving them the right to sue those who “aid and abet” their victim in having an abortion—this, of course, can include their victims’ family members, if they helped them have an abortion. Slate notes that where Texas’ ban invites “Lyft drivers, high school counselors, and neighbors” to police someone’s pregnancy, Idaho’s has an added dimension of cruelty, as it specifically empowers abusive intimate partners’ extended family members to “coerce and pressure” their victim.
The Idaho bill’s exception for rape is highly limited as it requires people to report their rape to the police prior to their abortion, and opens the door for lawsuits in the extremely high likelihood that they don’t report their rape. As bans like this spread across the country, they add yet another tool to abusers’ already expansive toolbox to sue and exact legal punishment on their victims.
In a society that often feels designed to protect abusers and police survivors, abusers—and especially those who are wealthy—have their pick of legal avenues to silence or terrorize their victims. Women who publicly accuse powerful or famous men are frequently subject to defamation suits that can bankrupt or permanently tarnish their reputations. On college campuses, Trump-era Title IX policies opened the door for students accused of sexual assault to cross-examine their possible victims—all while victims are sometimes disciplined by schools for violating student conducts codes by drinking before being assaulted. In recent years, accused students have filed hundreds of lawsuits against schools for “anti-male bias”—this, over time, could have the impact of discouraging schools from taking action to support victims in fear of legal retaliation.
And in the legal system broadly, while fewer than 1% of rapes lead to convictions, as a result of what’s often called the sexual assault survivor to prison pipeline, about 90% of incarcerated women—who are primarily women of color—are survivors. It’s unsurprising, then, that while accused men are often unsparing in their pursuit of all legal actions they can take to silence or retaliate against victims, the vast majority of survivors don’t report their assaults.
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Idaho’s ban could soon result in rapists and their family members suing abortion providers or their victims’ families for at least $20,000, and possibly bankrupting them. “If I am raped and choose to have an abortion and my rapist has 10 siblings, is there anything to preclude all of them and their spouses from bringing a lawsuit for $20,000 each?” one Idaho lawmaker asked on the state House floor. The response she received? Maybe not spouses, but generally, “no.”
This jarringly cruel scenario is enabled by the ineffectiveness of rape exceptions to abortion bans. Jezebel has previously reported on how such exemptions attached to other abortion restrictions have required victims to report and prove their rape to law enforcement, discouraging many from even trying to seek the exception. Instead, these exceptions have historically been used by anti-abortion politicians to give their horrifying laws the pretense of fairness and compassion, even as they disproportionately harm survivors.
When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was challenged by reporters about his abortion ban’s lack of exception for rape, he explained this was a non-issue, as he would simply “eliminate rape.” In reality, abortion bans like Texas’, and now, Idaho’s ban inspired by it, have the impact of implicitly normalizing violence against pregnant people, and making already disturbingly common acts of reproductive coercion between intimate partners culturally acceptable. Being denied an abortion can substantially increase a pregnant person’s risk of experiencing domestic violence and being entrapped in an abusive relationship, and it’s estimated nearly a tenth of people who seek abortion care do so specifically to escape abusive partners.
Abortion bans innately perpetuate gendered violence, forcing someone to be pregnant without their consent and comprising a violation of their bodily autonomy that can be uniquely retraumatizing for rape survivors. At a time when criminalization for pregnancy outcomes including self-managing your own abortion has tripled in recent years, abortion bans—particularly those that incentivize citizen surveillance and stalking from intimate partners—can deepen the survivor-to-prison pipeline by putting survivors who have abortions at risk of criminalization.
When we talk about the devastating impacts of abortion bans, it’s crucial that we center those who are most marginalized. Idaho’s ban codifies yet another way for rapists to exert legal power over their victims and sets a dangerous precedent that renders survivors especially vulnerable.