The Western state of Idaho has become the first state to pass a bill modeled after a Texas law that seeks to ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy by allowing potential family members to sue a doctor who performs one.
The Republican-controlled Idaho House voted 51-14 on Monday in favor of the bill already approved by the state Senate earlier this month. It’s now headed to Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican.
- Marissa Morrison, Little’s spokeswoman, said Monday the governor hadn’t seen the bill and doesn’t comment on pending legislation.
- Little, however, signed a similar so-called “fetal heartbeat” measure into law last year. It includes a trigger provision that would only allow it to take effect if a federal appeals court upheld a similar law in another state. That hasn’t happened.
What does Idaho’s abortion bill do?
Idaho’s bill is styled after the Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to remain in place until a court challenge is decided on its merits.
- If signed by the governor, Idaho’s bill would allow the father, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles of a “preborn child” to each sue an abortion provider for a minimum of $20,000 in damages within four years of the abortion.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said the bill is meant to protect human life
- “This bill makes sure that the people of Idaho can stand up for our values and do everything in our power to prevent the wanton destruction of innocent human life,” Harris said in a statement after the vote.
The arguments against Idaho’s abortion bill
Detractors, including Jennifer M. Allen, CEO of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, a nonprofit group working in Idaho and five other states, urged the governor to reject it.
- “Gov. Little must do the right thing, listen to the medical community, and veto this legislation before it forces Idaho patients to leave the state for critical, time-sensitive care or remain pregnant against their will,” she said in a statement.
Other opponents called the bill unconstitutional, and said six weeks is before many women know they’re pregnant. The legislation prevents rapists from filing a lawsuit, but a rapist’s relatives could each bring a lawsuit under the proposed law, Harris acknowledged.
- “The vigilante aspect of this bill is absurd,” said Democratic Rep. Lauren Necochea. “Its impacts are cruel, and it is blatantly unconstitutional.”
Will Idaho’s bill hold up in court?
Idaho’s bill was structured to allow lawsuits from a much smaller group of people than what Texas’ law allows. That was part of a legal strategy to give it a better chance of survival in court, Harris said.
- “We thought that would hold up better to any (court) challenges,” Harris said.
Idaho’s place in the national abortion debate
Idaho’s move is the latest to embody the battle over abortion that’s playing out across the U.S., months before the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to issue a ruling that could unravel or overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that has established the constitutional right to abortion.
Under current law, states can’t ban abortion before a fetus is viable, which typically occurs around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
- Roe v. Wade’s precedent was upheld by the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, but is being challenged again in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case disputing a 2018 Mississippi law that would ban abortions 15 weeks after a woman becomes pregnant.
Today, however, the makeup of the Supreme Court is markedly different than it was in 1992. In December, when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court’s conservative justices showed support for overturning the standard upheld 30 years ago.
Legal experts have said they expect a decision in late spring or early summer of 2022.
In the meantime, anti-abortion, conservative state lawmakers have been rushing to pass new laws that would restrict abortion.
- “Even as Roe technically remains the law of the land, the shifting legal and political landscape is making it more difficult for abortion rights advocates to stop them,” Time wrote in a story titled, “What Idaho’s Texas-style abortion ban means for the rest of the country” published Tuesday.
What’s happening in other states?
Another western state — Colorado, under the control of Democrats — made a move in the opposite direction Monday.
- The Colorado House of Representatives voted 40-24, along party lines, to advance legislation that seeks to codify the right to an abortion.
- The vote came despite fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers, who waged a nearly 24-hour filibuster last week to delay its passage. They called it the most extreme pro-abortion rights bill to be debated this year before any legislature, The Hill reported.
Oklahoma, which has seen a spike in demand for abortions from patients leaving Texas, has introduced several aggressive abortion restrictions.
- Oklahoma is considering its own Texas-style six-week ban as well as a bill that would ban abortions 30 days after a person’s last menstrual period, which would effectively outlaw all abortions, Time reported.
- Earlier this month,Florida also passed a 15-week ban modeled after the Mississippi law now in front of the Supreme Court. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill.
- Arizona is considering a 15-week ban bill too. Arizona’s Republican-controlled Senate voted last month to advance the bill to the House.
What about Utah?
Utah is one of 21 states with a so-called trigger law that would impose tight, currently illegal, restrictions on abortion should the case be overturned.
Approved by the full Utah Legislature and signed into law by Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert in 2020, SB174 would prohibit a person from receiving an abortion with certain exceptions. Here’s what’s in the bill:
- A woman can still receive an abortion if the pregnancy poses a life-threatening risk to the woman or “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
- An exemption is also granted if two physicians who practice “maternal fetal medicine” concur that the fetus “has a defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal or ... has a severe brain abnormality that is uniformly diagnosable.”
- Those pregnant as a result of rape or incest are also eligible for an exemption. The physician must verify with law enforcement that the incident was reported.
- Anyone found guilty of performing an abortion outside the scope of the bill will be charged with a second-degree felony.
- If a clinic performs an abortion outside the scope of the bill, it could have its license revoked.
Contributing: Associated Press