What's Tony Thinking

A Scuffle Between the States


One of the taken-for-granted glories of the United States is open and free passage across state boundaries. Usually, it’s a matter of two signs. One says, “Thanks for coming, Come Again!,” while the next says, “Welcome to ______ ! Drive Safely.” Could this change? Might we find ourselves going through border checkpoints and inspections when crossing state lines?

That could happen at the Idaho – Oregon border, suggested journalist Randy Stapilus in the Wallowa County Chieftain. Stapilus notes that Idaho has enacted one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, with the effect that Idaho citizens are coming to Oregon, and other states, for treatment.

But anti-abortion activists in Idaho are not content with their legislature victory. They are agitating against what they term “abortion trafficking,” or transporting a minor across state lines for an abortion. In theory, one state’s laws don’t apply to citizens of other states, but there’s enough ambiguity in the Idaho law to cause Oregonians to worry that health-care providers and facilities in Oregon might be liable under Idaho law.

Last spring the Idaho Attorney General, Raul Labrador, answered an inquiry about the scope of the Idaho law stating, “Idaho law prohibits an Idaho medical provider from either referring a woman across state lines for abortion services or prescribing abortion pills for the woman to pick up across state lines.” So would Oregon providers who provide services to Idaho citizens be endangered?

Hence, the hitherto unimagined possibility of border crossing checks and inspections.

The Oregon Legislature has responded with legislation protecting Oregonians from prosecution by other states and in accord with their laws. Both measures, the Idaho law and Oregon’s response, have yet to be tested in court.

This is not the first time that health care demand has spilled over from Idaho to Oregon. During COVID Idaho’s vaccination policies were lax with the result being overcrowding of their medical facilities. Many Idaho residents came to Oregon for a hospital bed and care. Here in Wallowa County the main hospital facility was sometimes overcrowded during COVID — with patients from Idaho.

There are not the only points of friction between Idaho and Oregon. As I reported in earlier blogs, there is a movement in Eastern Oregon for secession from Oregon to become part of Idaho. The so-called “Greater Idaho” movement. Votes are being taken county by county in Oregon, though they are expressions of public opinion and not legally binding.

This spring such a measure narrowly passed here in Wallowa County. It requires the Wallowa County Council to discuss the possibility of becoming part of Idaho at least twice a year. That said, it remains highly unlikely that such a secession effort would succeed. It would require ratification from Oregon’s state legislature, which is hard to imagine.

While some of what is driving the secession movement are culture war issues like abortion, the main complaint of Eastern Oregonians is that politicians in Salem don’t represent them or listen to them. This is not entirely without merit. In Oregon, as in Washington, the Democratic Party is pretty much completely in control of state politics. One effect of this is that bills proposed by Republican legislators seldom get a hearing, and if they manage a hearing, they don’t get a vote. Republican legislators have gone so far as to stage walk-outs in efforts to prevent the body from functioning. While that is probably not the best move, there is some basis for their frustration and that of their constituents.

An indication of this stranglehold is the opposition of the Democratic Party in Oregon to a ballot initiative creating an open primary in the state. Currently in Oregon about 43% of voters are independents, which means they have no vote in primary elections with a closed primary. Advocates of an open primary call this undemocratic, but the biggest obstacle in the way of reform is the Oregon Democratic Party. Go figure!

It would be a sad state of affairs if the free and open access between states and across their borders that we currently enjoy were changed by the culture wars and those who want to extend the reach of their state’s laws beyond their own border. I get the argument that many made that the issue of abortion ought to be decided on a state-by-state basis, but I wonder if those who argued for that approach imagined what is now transpiring between Idaho and Oregon, and perhaps other states as well?

Can anyone say, “unintended consequences”?


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