Doors open for Idaho's trigger law to take effect

·4 min read

Jun. 25—Friday's Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade triggered a 2020 Idaho law that will soon outlaw almost all abortions in the state.

The statute, Idaho Code 18-622, was contingent upon the court issuing a ruling "that restores to the states their authority to prohibit abortions."

The law takes effect in 30 days. It says anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion "commits the crime of criminal abortion," which is a felony punishable by two to five years in prison.

Those who perform or attempt to perform abortions, or who assist in the procedure, will also have their professional licenses suspended for a minimum of six months on first offense, and permanently revoked if there's a second offense.

House Majority Caucus Chairperson Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, and Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, co-sponsored the 2020 legislation.

Blanksma said when she introduced the bill two years ago, she didn't imagine it would take effect this quickly.

"I think we're all surprised at how quickly the court acted," she said. "And I'm grateful they acted as quickly as they did."

Idaho Code 18-622 provides an "affirmative defense" against prosecution in certain situations, such as when the mother's life is in danger or in cases of rape and incest that have been reported to law enforcement.

The law also specifically indicates that women who receive abortions are not subject to criminal prosecution.

In her written response to Friday's ruling, however, Idaho Democratic Party Chairperson Lauren Necochea questioned how long that will remain the case.

"Today's decision overturns 50 years of established reproductive freedoms and starts the clock on a terrifying countdown here in Idaho," she said. "Roe v. Wade protected our state from the most extreme positions of its Republican lawmakers. ... We have seen Republican legislators bring bills that would put patients on trial for murder if they receive abortions. We must brace for more extreme measures to follow this ban."

For example, some Idaho Republicans are already suggesting that the Legislature should ban any pills or drugs that induce abortions, even if they can also be used as contraception. There's also speculation they could try to target doctors in neighboring states who offer abortions to Idaho residents.

Blanksma said such conversations shift attention away from what the Legislature should really be doing.

"Our focus needs to be on supporting women who need help," she said.

For example, she pointed to the home visitation and lactation programs available at the Central Public Health District, where she serves as vice chairperson.

"We already have a number of support programs in place (for expectant mothers), but we need to strengthen them and make sure people know about them," Blanksma said. "We need to look at our adoption laws and foster care laws. I think we also have to start talking about fathers who walk away from pregnancies."

Gov. Brad Little sounded a similar note in his response to Friday's ruling.

"Today's decision is the culmination of pro-life efforts to defend the defenseless," he said. "However, we fully acknowledge this monumental moment in our country's history means we must confront what we know will be growing needs for women and families in the months and years ahead. We absolutely must come together like never before to support women and teens facing unexpected or unwanted pregnancies."

That includes access to adoption services and health care, Little said, as well as "financial and food assistance, counseling and treatment, and family planning."

Such assurances rang hollow for some, however.

The Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, for example, issued a statement saying it's "distressed" by the impact Friday's ruling will have on Idaho families.

"Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive health services will lead to unsafe abortions and unsafe pregnancies, which will disproportionately affect people of color, low-income individuals, rural residents and other vulnerable populations," the organization said.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said the Supreme Court "just made millions of women second-class citizens."

"In reversing 50 years of precedent, the court has eviscerated the fundamental constitutional right to privacy, opening the door to big government to police the intimate details of our personal lives. Unfortunately, Idaho's GOP politicians have proven themselves eager to flex this power."

Earlier this year, the Republican-dominated Legislature amended Idaho's fetal heartbeat abortion ban bill, which was enacted in 2021.

The measure prohibits most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. New language was added this year allowing relatives of the mother to sue abortion providers; however, that amendment is currently on hold while the measure is being challenged in court.

In any case, the bill indicates that if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, then Idaho Code 18-622 takes precedence and becomes the guiding statute.

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