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Idaho's extensive abortion ban is impacting neighboring Washington

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In the months since Roe v. Wade was overturned, state laws around abortion have been rapidly changing. Idaho is considering one extreme - the criminalization of people who seek abortions. Katia Riddle reports on how this is playing out along the Washington-Idaho border.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: People come from all over the country to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Spokane. Washington has some of the strongest protections for abortion rights in the country. Many seeking the procedure here are from Idaho.

AUGUSTUS FINK: Well, my fiancée's inside, getting an abortion.

RIDDLE: Augustus Fink is playing with his two young kids on a grassy strip in the clinic's parking lot. Fink says there's no way he and his fiancée can have another child. She's been working part time as a hairdresser. He's between jobs. They're between houses. Child care is already out of reach.

FINK: We have these two we want to keep forever and we love more than anything. It's just not realistic, you know, to have another one.

RIDDLE: It took the couple weeks to save up the gas, the hotel and the time off work they needed to get here from Idaho. The state has in place a near-total abortion ban.

SCOTT HERNDON: The child either has a constitutional right to life, or the child absolutely does not.

RIDDLE: Scott Herndon will more than likely become a Republican state senator in Idaho this year. He's running uncontested.

S HERNDON: I don't think it can be conditional.

RIDDLE: Once he's in the Senate, the evangelical minister plans to advocate for something known as abortion abolition, which allows prosecutors to charge a person who gets an abortion with murder.

And what kind of punishments do you think would be appropriate?

S HERNDON: Well, the great thing about the legislature is we don't actually assign the punishments. So...

RIDDLE: Herndon is evasive about what that would look like in practice. But murder is serious, and classifying abortion as such could mean significant jail time. On this day, Herndon's standing on his 15 acres of land in the small town of Sandpoint, Idaho. It's about an hour from the Washington border. He lives here with his seven children and wife Arlene Herndon.

ARLENE HERNDON: He was a long-haired vegan when I met him.

RIDDLE: Politics was not the couple's original plan. They met when they were both living in San Francisco. When her husband said he wanted to move to Idaho and build them a house, says Arlene Herndon, she was skeptical. Then he did it.

A HERNDON: Just researching and studying every facet, from plumbing to septic to electrical.

RIDDLE: He's a persistent guy.

A HERNDON: Yeah.

RIDDLE: That persistence has allowed him to build a construction business, and it's been helpful in advocating for years for some of the most extreme abortion regulation in the country. Like much of Idaho, Herndon's community leans Republican. But even here, it can be hard to find support for the idea of criminalizing those seeking abortion.

LASHELLE LINDSCOTT: That's a tricky subject.

RIDDLE: Lashelle Lindscott is working at a coffee stand in downtown Sandpoint. A sign above the window offers free prayers to anyone who needs them.

LINDSCOTT: Myself being a Christian, I definitely think that that's a human life, you know? I don't care how many weeks you are, how small the embryo is. That's a life. I do think that - you know, circumstantially that there has to be a time where an abortion is the only way out.

RIDDLE: What about punishing women for having abortions, like equating abortions with homicide?

LINDSCOTT: I don't think that's right at all.

ELISABETH SMITH: We know that in states where abortion is no longer legal, those policies are not popular.

RIDDLE: Elisabeth Smith is with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. A number of states have introduced legislation to further criminalize abortion. In at least one state, Louisiana, such a measure actually passed out of a House committee before it was killed. Smith says the idea of criminalization should not be dismissed even if it doesn't currently have public support.

SMITH: And yet we continue to see a minority of legislators who have control in various states push these unpopular and harmful policies forward.

FINK: Hello. What, babe?

RIDDLE: Back across the border at the clinic in Spokane, Augustus Fink gets a phone call from his fiancée. She's still inside the clinic.

FINK: It's OK, baby. We'll figure it out.

RIDDLE: It's too late, she tells him. They can't do the procedure. Fink's shaken.

FINK: Just come back out, OK? We'll go. I love you. OK.

RIDDLE: He says if they could have had the abortion in Idaho, they wouldn't have had to wait so long. They've already been planning a move out of the state. Now Augustus Fink is even more confident in that choice. Idaho, he says, is no longer safe. For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in Spokane.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "TIMID, INTIMIDATING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katia Riddle