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Texas-style abortion bill heads to the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives

Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho Senate has already passed the bill, which allow relatives to sue providers

The Idaho Legislature’s House State Affairs Committee advanced a Texas-style abortion bill Wednesday that will allow relatives of a pregnant mother to sue a medical provider who performs an abortion after cardiac activity is detected.

If passed into law, Senate Bill 1309 would allow the mother, father, grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle of an unborn baby to sue the medical provider who performed the abortion for a minimum of $20,000. The bill would allow lawsuits within four years of an abortion being performed and would prohibit courts from awarding attorneys fees to a defendant, win or lose.

Public testimony during the bill’s public hearing Wednesday was divided.

Supporters of the bill said it will lead to fewer abortions in Idaho.

“This bill will save lives,” Meridian resident Jacqueline Wakefield told legislators.

Others agreed.

“If a heartbeat is detected, a baby needs to be protected. A mother’s womb should be the safest place on earth,” said Robin Watters, executive director of Lifeline Pregnancy Center and a registered nurse.

Opponents questioned the medical accuracy of the bill.

“SB 1309 is not a pro-life bill, it is a bill about controlling and punishing femme bodies and protecting those whose abuse them, poorly disguised as a bill about granting rights to a few embryonic bills,” nurse Vanessa Rosenbaum told legislators.

Opponents also expressed concern that making it harder for a woman to lawfully obtain an abortion would endanger women and could lead to an increase in unsafe abortions.

“I am a NICU nurse. I save babies for a living. This bill is not about saving babies; it is ignorance cloaking itself in pseudo medical jargon,” Lindsay Van Allen told legislators.

“Let’s be honest, this is a total ban wrapped in plausible deniability,” Van Allen added. “Nearly one-third of people who get pregnant don’t know they are pregnant by six weeks. This is merely removing access and availability of necessary health care.”

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion saying the bill would likely prohibit almost all abortions in Idaho and likely be found unconstitutional if challenged, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported.

Idaho has a fetal heartbeat law in place, House Bill 366 from 2021. This bill adds to that law the ability for relatives to sue the medical provider who performed the abortion. The new bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said the fetal heartbeat law includes a legal “trigger” that would make the criminal penalties section of it take effect after an appellate court somewhere else upholds a so-called fetal heartbeat bill like this one.

“Part of the effort is, of course, to send a message to the Supreme Court to the national level that states think there is a place for us to have a voice — have the voice frankly,” Harris said. “It sends a message to our citizens that says this is life.”

Some pro-life supporters testified in opposition to the bill because it prohibits abortions after cardiac activity is detected, not at the moment of fertilization.

In the end, the House State Affairs Committee voted to advance the bill over opposition from the committee’s two Democrats and from Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who said the bill does not go far enough because there is an exception for rape and incest if the mother reports the assault to police and can provide the doctor with the police report. Despite voting against the bill, Scott told the committee she did not want to be perceived as not being pro-life.

Senate Bill 1309 is headed next to the floor of the Idaho house of Representatives, where it is likely to pass. The Idaho Senatepreviously passed the bill along party lines in a 28-6 vote on March 3. To become law, it would need to pass the Idaho House and be signed into law by Gov. Brad Little or allowed to become law without his signature.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.