Abortion bill passes Idaho Senate

·3 min read

Mar. 4—BOISE — A controversial abortion bill modeled after a Texas law passed the Senate on a 28-6 party-line vote Thursday, following an emotional hourlong debate.

Senate Bill 1309 expands on the "fetal heartbeat abortion ban," which was signed into law last year.

That law prohibits all abortions after about six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, except in cases of medical emergency, rape or incest. It also allows any woman who receives an abortion in violation of the heartbeat ban to sue her abortion provider.

SB 1309 expands the list of people who can sue to include the unborn child's father, grandparents, sibling, aunt or uncle. It allows them to sue up to four years after the abortion is performed or attempted, and provides for a minimum $20,000 in damages.

"This bill establishes civil liability for abortionists who perform abortions after a heartbeat can be detected," said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Caldwell. "This civil cause of action exists independent of any criminal charges."

Although the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman's right to an abortion with its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, the Texas law sidestepped that by allowing family members to sue for damages.

Moreover, SB 1309 specifically prohibits state or local government officials from enforcing the new section of code.

"The Supreme Court made it clear, when it dismissed the Justice Department lawsuit against Texas in December, you cannot sue a state to block enforcement of a law the state doesn't enforce," Lodge said. "The state isn't enforcing this law. It's private citizens who can file suits."

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said the legislation "allows vigilantes to sue doctors and health centers that provide abortion care after six weeks."

"This bill attempts to make an end run around the constitutional right to abortion, with remains the law of the land," she said. "This feels like a very aggressive attempt to just shatter the rights we have nationwide. The bill treats women as if we're children. A husband, family member or even the parents of a rapist can control our choices."

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, noted that SB 1309 specifically prohibits rapists from filing lawsuits against abortion providers, but doesn't extend that same prohibition to their parents or siblings, who could still sue.

Burgoyne spent several minutes discussing an attorney general's opinion that highlighted potential constitutional concerns with the legislation.

For example, the due process clause in the 14th Amendment "prohibits the imposition of grossly excessive or arbitrary punishments," he said.

Providing for a minimum $20,000 in damages, without any requirement that plaintiffs demonstrate or justify that level of damages, could violate that constitutional provision, Burgoyne said.

Supporters of the bill, however, said lawmakers must do whatever they can to limit abortions.

"Our greatest obligation as legislators is to protect those lives who can't protect themselves," said Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett. "For us to protect (human life) and watch out for those babies is the greatest thing we can do."

Sen. Robert Blair, R-Kendrick, said he was a "child of the '60s."

"I think I bring a unique perspective on this issue," he said. "I'm adopted. If not for my mother's decision not to have an abortion, I wouldn't be here. We're here today as a body to be that voice, to be the voice of those who cannot speak."

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, joined Blair and the other Senate Republicans in supporting the bill. Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, was absent. All other Senate Democrats opposed the measure, which now heads to the House for further action.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.