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Abortion, Yellowstone ‘zone of death,’ an Idaho doctor and book bans: Most read stories of 2022

The Idaho State Capitol on March 21, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
The Idaho State Capitol on March 21, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The 2022 midterm elections and a busy legislative session gave Idaho a daily dose of news.

Idaho in 2022 was a flood of newsworthy events, laws and people. The most popular reads on included coverage of the Idaho Legislature’s shifting priorities — one of which was to propose or approve bans on what Idahoans can do.

The bills and laws that made headlines in 2022 included bans on abortion, library books and materials, and drag performances with children in attendance.

1. No exception for life of mother included in Idaho GOP’s abortion platform language

By a nearly four-to-one margin, Idaho Republicans at the state party’s convention in Twin Falls rejected endorsing an exception to abortion bans in cases where it would save the mother’s life.

Scott Herndon, who takes office as a state senator in January, proposed adding language to the party platform to support the criminalization of all abortions within the state’s jurisdiction and that Idaho’s Constitution should be amended to include a “declaration of the right to life for preborn children.”

The platform already said the Idaho Republican Party classifies abortion as murder from the moment of fertilization.

2. Into the zone of death: Four days spent deep in the Yellowstone National Park backcountry

The ranger warned us before we attempted to enter the “zone of death.”

Millions of people visit Yellowstone National Park each year, but one of the least visited parts of the park, the so-called zone of death, lies in Idaho.

It’s rugged and remote, with no roads, a place where the trail grows faint and grizzly bears or cascading waterfalls could be just around the corner.

Nobody lives there, and almost nobody camps there overnight.

There are even rumors that you can get away with murder there.

3. Idaho legislator asks U.S. Congress to close Yellowstone’s ‘zone of death’ loophole

Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, sponsored House Joint Memorial 3, calling on Congress to close the ‘zone of death’ loophole.

Nobody lives within that 50 square-mile section of Yellowstone located in Idaho, according to the 2020 census.

The lack of human inhabitants could become a problem if a criminal defendant on trial for, say, a murder or kidnapping that took place in that precise area was to evoke their Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

With no people living in the area, how would the defendant be tried by a jury from the state and district where the crime occurred?

4. Idaho doctor who falsely links COVID-19 vaccine to cancer has misdiagnosed two patients

One woman thought she had cancer. Another woman thought she was developing it. There was no cancer.

They were misdiagnosed by Dr. Ryan Cole — while he claimed to see a spike in cancers at his laboratory and attributed that spike to immune damage from the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cole has not publicly produced evidence to support that claim, while experts who refute his claim have shared their evidence and directly debunked his mischaracterizations of their research.

“I’ve seen a 20 times increase of endometrial cancers over what I see on an annual basis — a 20 times increase, not exaggerating at all,” Cole said in a video produced by anti-vaccination group Health Freedom Idaho in August 2021.

5. Idaho doctors, pathology board accuse Dr. Ryan Cole of endangering public health

Idaho physicians allege, in complaints to a Washington medical board, that patients came into their hospitals sick with COVID-19 after taking advice or treatment from Dr. Ryan Cole, according to documents obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun through a public records request.

In addition, the American Board of Pathology urged the Washington Medical Commission to consider the actions of Cole, who is licensed to practice in Washington and previously told the Idaho Capital Sun he prescribed medications including ivermectin to at least one patient in Washington, via telehealth.

6. University of Idaho releases memo warning employees that promoting abortion is against state law

The University of Idaho has warned its employees not to provide reproductive health counseling, including abortion, to their students or they may risk losing their jobs or criminal prosecution.

According to a memo the university’s general counsel sent to all employees Friday, Idaho law prohibits university employees from promoting, counseling or referring someone for an abortion, and prohibits the institution from dispensing drugs classified as emergency contraception except in cases of rape.

The memo primarily focused on a law passed in the 2021 session of the Idaho Legislature prohibiting public funds from being used to “procure, counsel in favor, refer to or perform an abortion.”

The University of Idaho and other public schools across Idaho are subject to the law since they are state-funded institutions.

7. Idaho attorney general says abortion ban likely to take effect in late August after SCOTUS decision

In a statement, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said he joined many in Idaho and across the country in welcoming the court’s long-awaited decision that he said upholds state sovereignty and protects lives.

“This is now clear — the ‘right’ to an abortion was a judicial creation. Abortion is not a right expressed in the U.S. Constitution, and abortion will be entrusted to the states and their people to regulate,” Little wrote.

“However, we fully acknowledge this monumental moment in our country’s history means we must confront what now will be growing needs for women and families in the months and years ahead,” he wrote. “We absolutely must come together like never before to support women and teens facing unexpected or unwanted pregnancies. Families, churches, charities, and local and state government must stand ready to lift them up and help them and their families with access to adoption services, health care, financial and food assistance, counseling and treatment and family planning. We are being called to support women and our fellow community members in extraordinary new ways, and I’m confident Idahoans are ready to meet this responsibility with love and compassion.”

8. Idaho House passes bill that could lead to prosecution of librarians for ‘harmful material’

Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, sponsored the bill and said it was necessary to protect children from what she described as pornography and obscene material, which she said was making its way into libraries where children could access it.

“We are simply asking that those that are responsible for the materials in our libraries or in museums or the other places that are listed in this code, are handled sensitively and responsibly,” DeMordaunt said. “There needs to be more vigilance, period.”

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said he was initially concerned about the bill but believed it was appropriate when viewed in the context of other state laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions that protect books and art with literary, artistic, political and scientific value.

“When you look at it in its totality, it is a little less scary,” Chaney said, adding the bill could “stem the tide” of dangerous material kids could get ahold of.

9. Idaho doctor co-signs letter demanding the FAA, airlines ground vaccinated pilots

An Idaho doctor who is under investigation for false claims about COVID-19 vaccines signed a Dec. 15 letter to the Federal Aviation Administration and major airlines that claims pilots cannot be allowed to fly after receiving a coronavirus vaccine.

The FAA and airlines are breaking federal rules that “prohibit pilots from flying with non-FDA approved agents in their bodies like the COVID-19 inoculation,” claims the letter, signed by Garden City pathologist Dr. Ryan Cole and six others.

The signatories included cardiologist Dr. Peter McCullough, Robert Kennedy Jr. and other activists against childhood immunizations and COVID-19 public health recommendations, including attorneys from Children’s Health Defense and Advocates for Citizens’ Rights.

10. Bill prohibiting public drag performances to be introduced in upcoming Idaho legislative session

A bill that would ban drag performances in all public venues will be introduced in the first days of the 2023 session of the Idaho Legislature, Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti told the Idaho Capital Sun.

Conzatti and other conservative activists around Idaho and across the country have protested against events in public spaces that feature drag queens, including drag queen story hour events at public libraries.

In September, Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon called for people to pressure corporate sponsors of Boise Pride to pull their names from sponsorship at the event over a scheduled “Drag Kids” performance for ages 11 to 18, which was ultimately postponed over safety concerns.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.