The Lumberjill: BGH and other casualties of Idaho’s abortion ban

By Jen Jackson Quintano
Reader Columnist

The closure of Bonner General’s labor and delivery unit is the talk of the town. In fact, it is the talk of the nation. The Today Show reported on it, and even The Guardian ran a story.

Which means the whole thing is just that effed up. The glare of the media spotlight is affirmation of the fact. The media reports on spectacle, and we are that. 

Sandpoint is emerging as one of the Four Horsemen of the Women’s Health Apocalypse.

Giddyup, pardner. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Jen Jackson Quintano. Courtesy photo.

I understand that there are many factors at play in this tragedy. Finances and a changing demographic are part of the decision. Obstetrical care in Sandpoint — as in many rural areas — was already a house of cards. But many babies were born and lives saved in that house. It was our house of cards.

Idaho’s punitive abortion laws, however, were just the winds to knock the whole enterprise down. And I’ll bet good money that we’re just the beginning, the first domino of many across the state.

It turns out that the meddling of inept minds in health care decisions has a ripple effect. That is not to say that the powers that be in Idaho are generally inept (though some might argue the case), just that they are inept when it comes to medicine. Take me, as a writer and business owner — if you asked me to craft legislation related to ranching, I would torpedo the whole enterprise. I am an inept guardian of the livestock realm.

Just as white male legislators are inept guardians of the uterine sphere. 

When are politicians going to understand that there is so much they don’t understand? When are they going to see that the gaps in their health care knowledge translate to deaths in real life? This isn’t a matter of a failed pop quiz. Ignorance, here, is deadly.

Women’s health providers are fleeing our state because they don’t want to go to jail for doing their jobs. Oregon, Washington and California are welcoming them with wide open arms, better pay and zero threat of prosecution. Not only is BGH closing the door on labor and delivery, but the rest of the state is tottering at the edge of obstetrical collapse.

As House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, a Democrat from Boise, shared with  (yeah, they’re covering our plight, too), we’ve recently lost one-third of our specialists caring for high-risk pregnancies in the state. And, for the first time in Idaho history, we can’t fill our medical residencies. No one wants to practice obstetrics here right now. Why should they?

Idaho’s current abortion laws allow for an affirmative defense in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother (but not for the mother’s health, mind you — fuck the mother’s health). That means that physicians are guilty until proven innocent. 

In a state where abortion is a four-letter word, doctors here must essentially start with the assertion that, yes, it was an abortion. Who here is going to keep an open mind after hearing that nugget of truth? Who is going to care whether it was justified? (And I say “justified” in Idaho’s very narrow sense of the term. I believe there are far more reasons than incest or imminent death that warrant performing an abortion.)

Furthermore, in January of this year, the Idaho Supreme Court upheld our state’s prohibition on abortion, as well as our Texas-inspired bounty hunter law, wherein a family member of the aborted fetus may sue the attending physician for at least $20,000 in damages. (Yes, the law identifies a floor, not a ceiling, for settlements in such lawsuits.) Meanwhile, the felony charge for attempting, performing or assisting with an abortion in Idaho includes two to five years in prison, suspension of one’s medical license and fines.

Never mind that, in some instances, an abortion is the most compassionate act available based on predicted outcomes for mother and/or child; in Idaho, that compassion is likely to land the provider in jail.

Listen to the pitter-patter of feet as all the terrified OBGYNs flee.

It is a heart-wrenching sound.

Our legally mandated lack of compassion is likely to land pregnant people in the emergency room, where physicians are poorly equipped to handle complications. As one ER nurse friend of mine quipped, pregnant folks might be better off with local veterinarians; at least they have extensive experience delivering babies.

Eight years ago, I required the services of Bonner General. I tried for a home birth, but the fates — or my daughter — had other plans in mind. Things got complicated, and Dr. Amelia Huntsberger safely brought my baby into the world via cesarean. My stubborn girl wasn’t coming out any other way.

At the time, I lived up Rapid Lightning Road — a 40-plus-minute drive to the hospital. What would it have been like to append an extra hour to that already formidable journey? My daughter was born in December. What would we have done with snowy roads all the way to Coeur d’Alene’s labor and delivery department?

I shudder at the thought, though for currently expectant mothers in Sandpoint, that thought is a reality.

At school drop-off, one of my dear friends — a pillar of the community and mother of two — lamented, “Are we going to have to move? Is that what it’s come to?”

It was a serious question.

I’m concerned about its implications.

Sandpoint already skews toward the older end of the age spectrum. As Editor Zach Hagadone recently reported in the Reader, our town’s median age is about 48. Now, with young doctors leaving and their child-bearing patients soon to follow, what does that mean for the further erosion of Sandpoint’s demographic diversity? 

Graver implications aside — like maternal mortality — what does this do to business owners like myself? I’m already having a hell of a time hiring this season. If younger residents flee because they can’t raise families here, then my pool of qualified candidates further diminishes. Just as it does for local restaurants, retail spaces, hotels and more, all of them already struggling with employee shortages. And forget actually attracting employees, as companies in technology, engineering and other knowledge sectors must. Idaho likely looks like a medical hellscape to potential recruits.

As I mentioned, meddling in women’s health care has a ripple effect. Removing all abortion access might seem like a life-saving measure, but it actually makes life more challenging and dangerous for everyone. Physicians will leave. Young families will either depart or take on added risk with their birthing experiences. Some women will die. Demographics will change. More babies will now be born with no medical or social safety net (as TIME magazine reported, there is a paradox in that “the states most committed to requiring women to carry pregnancies to term tend to invest the least in the health and economic security of expectant mothers and children after they are born”). Entire communities will bear the burden of laws lacking compassion and foresight. 

As Tyler quipped this morning, pondering a potential outflow of young residents, “I guess retirees are going to have to learn how to cut down their own trees and pour their own wine.”

Maybe they can learn how to deliver babies while they’re at it.

All of this because legislators are grandstanding on a podium that sits squarely between women and their physicians. They are saying, if you have a uterus, your health and wellbeing matters little. They are saying that their ideas matter more than your life.

Legislators are saying all of this, and now Sandpoint is paying the price.

Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at See more of Quintano’s writing at

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