The Cold War between WA and neighbor Idaho gets hotter

It’s hard to believe, but Washington and Idaho used to be friends.

In fact if you go back far enough, Idaho was a part of Washington. It was the Washington territorial Legislature, back in the 1860s, that created and funded the city of Boise — which went on to become Idaho’s capital.

Now the two neighbors aren’t just behaving like blue-red competitors, but like West and East Berlin.

Tensions are high enough that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently wrote to Idaho Gov. Brad Little, arguing that the state’s most-extreme-in-the-nation abortion laws are turning Idaho into a no-go zone.

“I fear that our residents, in particular the women and girls of Washington, will be in grave danger if they travel to your state and find themselves in need of urgent reproductive health care services,” Inslee wrote.

Inslee took the unusual step of demanding Little veto a bill that makes it a felony to take a minor under 18 across the Washington-Idaho border for an abortion, without the parents’ express permission.

He also evoked, again, how Washington is serving as civilization to Idaho’s Old West. He referenced how Washington had to take more than 2,000 Idaho COVID-19 patients back when hospitals there were overwhelmed with unvaccinated patients, and so were rationing medical care.

“As we did during COVID, we will care for your residents in a manner consistent with their health needs, as determined by trained medical professionals, not politicians,” Inslee said.

Oh yeah? The next day, Little ignored Inslee and signed the bill. Little has now clapped back: “It is hard to imagine why someone would leave Idaho for Washington when your state is home to sky-high taxes, crime and public encampments.”

It’s not that hard to imagine — maybe talk to a broader cross-section of Idaho women? Nearly 80% of patients at Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Pullman, in Eastern Washington, came over from Idaho in recent months. Last fall I wrote about an Idaho patient who was desperate enough to get out of there for an abortion that she took a 315-mile, $1,200 cab ride to a clinic in Bend, Ore.

The attorney general of Idaho raised the stakes on all this, issuing an opinion that it’s illegal for doctors there to even suggest to their patients that they go to Washington, or other states, for abortions.

This “impedes my right to speak to and counsel my patients,” a gynecologist in McCall, Caitlin Gustafson, said in a lawsuit this month, after which Idaho seemed to back away from this hard-line stance.

The net effect though is there’s now an underground railroad of sorts between the two states, except it’s for women’s reproductive care. Last week the White House, alarmed by the Idaho-Washington tensions and the prospect that women might get caught in a dragnet, proposed a new federal rule that would block state officials from accessing the medical records of patients who leave their home states for care.

These friction points are probably going to get more intense. Take the past week or so and another issue, that of guns.

Washington state Democrats banned the sale of assault weapons. Meanwhile, in Booneville County, Idaho, Republicans held a perverse “Lincoln Day” fundraiser, at which they auctioned off assault rifles as well as a “Trigger Time” event at the shooting range with Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two protesters during the summer of 2020 in Wisconsin.

“Rittenhouse is known for one thing: shooting people,” wrote The Idaho Statesman’s Bryan Clark, who called the political fundraiser “obscene.”

It is obscene — and similar language gets used by some conservative Idahoans about Washington’s liberal abortion policies. So it’s also not hard to imagine that just as blue Washington is becoming a sanctuary for Idahoans seeking abortions, red Idaho will become a haven for Washingtonians seeking assault weapons. The governors can exchange verbal fire about this next.

These two states used to be buddies! Or at least associates. We have all these neighborly cross-cultural ties built up over the years, such as the Inland Northwest Economic Alliance (an interstate business partnership) and WWAMI, the one-of-a-kind program dating back to 1971 in which the University of Washington medical school trains doctors in Northwest states including Idaho. (How is that going these days for obstetrics and reproductive care?)

You can’t help but wonder how long before the border, for decades little more than a welcoming line on maps, becomes hardened somehow.

It already is, psychologically. It’s getting so you have to remind yourself that the two states are still part of the same country, with a common history and traditions. (The governors definitely need this counsel.) But when one side is threatening doctors in say, Coeur d’Alene, with a crime for even suggesting that citizens might travel to the other side — to Spokane, say — for their health care, wouldn’t a logical step at some point be to try to stop the citizens from going?

Same with buying assault weapons, except in the other direction?

I am not making a prediction that we will someday have a literal “Checkpoint Charlie” on the Idaho-Washington border.

But everything else written in this column sounds completely insane, yet it’s all true. So I’ve learned in this era of America fracturing — don’t shrug about the prospect that the crackup may be only just beginning.

Bessie Venters

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