BOISE — A “trigger law” to ban most abortions in Idaho if the federal government gives the states the power to do so is headed to the Idaho House.
The Senate voted along party lines Thursday, with the Republicans in favor and the Democrats opposed, to pass the bill.
Eight states have similar laws; Idaho passed one shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, but repealed it in the 1990s. Sponsored by Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, the bill would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison, with exceptions when an abortion is performed in cases of rape or incest or to save the mother’s life. It doesn’t contain any penalties for the woman.
Lakey said he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court, which has gotten more conservative due to President Donald Trump’s appointments, overturns Roe soon.
“It may happen in the nine months when we’re not in session. ... If this bill can save the life of one unborn child, it’s worth it,” he said.
Two Republicans debated in favor of the bill, five Democrats against it. Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said lawmakers should be a voice for the voiceless, and no one is more voiceless than unborn children.
“I challenge the notion that the taking of a human life is health care,” she said.
The rape and incest exemptions would only apply if the act were reported to police or child protective services. Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, said this wouldn’t cover many cases, such as a woman who has been raped by her father or a relative for years and might be too frightened for her life to report it.
“To criminalize physicians for women’s health care is wrong, and providing an exemption for rape or incest does not solve the problem of a woman who was victimized by abuse,” she said.
Justin Shank, who is filling in for Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said lawmakers should focus on improving the foster care system, helping more children get adopted and improving services for single mothers and abused women instead of legislating in anticipation of a court decision that may or may not ever happen.
“When these children are born we’re kind of setting them up for failure,” he said. “We don’t have the support systems to help these mothers (and) help these children live good lives.”
Shank says he knows women his age who have gotten an abortion and it was a difficult decision.
“Nobody says I want an abortion … but ultimately it’s their decision to do so,” he said.
The bill was referred Thursday afternoon to the House State Affairs Committee for a possible hearing.
“Right now, we are dealing with a pandemic of global proportions with COVID-19, but our Legislature continues its destructive and discriminatory path by only focusing on controlling people’s bodies and lives,” Mistie Tolman, Idaho state director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said in a statement after the vote. “Idaho lawmakers should not be wasting taxpayer dollars on laws that don’t have anything to do with protecting people. Idahoans deserve better, and Idahoans deserve lawmakers who are focused on making their lives better by expanding access to health care, not restricting it.”
As well as Lakey’s bill, a bill to take public funding away from abortion providers could pass this year. Sponsored by Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, it has already passed the House. It is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee Friday, where Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, is carrying it.