April 11, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Blue states are moving to protect abortion rights and trans rights against a red state power grab
The far right refined a common playbook for projecting the power of red states beyond their borders, writes Lindsay Beyerstein.
Last week, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 13, landmark legislation safeguarding health care providers, patients, and good samaritans involved in abortion or gender-affirming care in New Mexico. It is now illegal for the state to cooperate with lawsuits or criminal investigations launched in other states over care delivered in New Mexico. Nor will New Mexico extradite anyone to another state, if they’re charged for delivering legal care in the Land of Enchantment.
Several states have already passed laws that protect either abortion providers or gender affirming care providers from these out-of-state overreaches, but a growing number of blue states are trying to protect abortion and trans rights at one go. Legislators in Oregon and Colorado are considering similar combined bills this session.
By including abortion and trans health in the same law, legislators affirm the war on abortion rights and on trans healthcare are one and the same. As well they should. These battles are waged by the same religious fanatics using the same tactics. So-called gender critical feminists, better known as TERFs, have tried for years to position abortion rights and trans rights as a zero-sum game. Nothing could be further from the truth. The right is mounting a coordinated offensive against bodily autonomy and personal freedom. Abortion and gender-affirming care are in the crosshairs.
After Roe fell, national antiabortion groups and their allies in state legislatures were not content to criminalize abortion at the state level. Instead, they stepped up their efforts to prevent abortion-seekers from traveling to states where abortion is legal.
Legislators in blue states are trying to get ahead of all this cross-border meddling. One battleground is the use of civil lawsuits to intimidate providers. In 2021, Texas became the first state to enact an abortion ban enforced by civil lawsuits. In principle, abortion providers in blue states can be sued for performing an abortion on someone who traveled from Texas. Texas-style abortion bans were rapidly copied by other states.
Many red states have already considered bills to restrict travel for abortion care. Last year, an antiabortion legislator in Missouri tried to criminalize aiding and abetting an abortion outside the state. Such laws are prima facie unconstitutional, so supporters are taking an incremental approach in an attempt to normalize their power grab.
This is similar to the approach antichoice movement took pre-Roe, passing laws to restrict abortion on the margins with a view to undermining the constitutional consensus that Roe was the law of the land. Care for minors is often a convenient place to start.
Last week, Idaho became the first to criminalize de facto adults who take minors across state lines for abortions without parental permission. The law says nothing about crossing state lines, but that’s what you have to do if you’re in Idaho and you need a legal abortion.
Similar tactics are used on trans kids. For two years, far-right Idaho legislators have tried to make it a felony to take kids out of state for gender-affirming care. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott ordered child protective services to investigate parents who seek gender-affirming care. His attorney general affirmed that gender-affirming care is child abuse under state law. This opens the door to interstate investigations of parents who travel to obtain health care for their children.
The far right refined a common playbook for projecting the power of red states beyond their borders to intimidate and coerce. Sanctuary laws are an important step to check this outrageous power grab.
Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.