On March 14, Idaho became the first state after Texas to pass a law that will ban abortions at six weeks. The Idaho House voted, with no Democratic support, 51 to 14, and the bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Brad Little. Mr. Little, a Republican, who is likely to sign it.
What is the abortion ban in Idaho?
The Senate Bill 1309, dubbed the “Fetal Heartbeat, Preborn Child Protection Act,” passed the state Senate earlier this month and with the Idaho Legislature’s approval, the bill’s full approval is likely inevitable. The Fetal Heartbeat, Preborn Child Protection Act would ban abortion after six weeks in Idaho when a heartbeat is often detected but most don’t realize they’re pregnant yet and well before any fetal viability.
In addition, the Idaho bill would allow the potential family members of the fetus, whether that be the father, siblings, aunts, uncles, or grandparents of a “preborn child,” to sue the medical professional who performed the abortion. The bill allows a person to sue the abortion provider for a minimum of $20,000 in damages within four years of the procedure.
“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,” Republican Rep. Steven Harris, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement after the vote, according to USA Today. This is different from the Texas bill — in which anyone can sue and be sued, probably as a way to limit the challenges to the bill from courts.
The Idaho bill makes a provision for an abortion to take place after six weeks in the case of an emergency, rape, or incest. However, as USA Today points out, in this case, “although a rapist wouldn’t be able to file a lawsuit, their relatives could.”
What’s the status of challenges to the Texas abortion ban and Roe?
Just like the Texas bill that passed and came into effect in September, the Idaho law looks like it’s a challenge to the long-held Roe v. Wade standard, which has established a constitutional right to abortion by prohibiting states from banning abortions before fetal viability – which is approximately 23 weeks.
However, these new heartbeat bills are the sneaky ways these states are trying to circumvent the 1973 decision and undermine the important protection for access to safe abortion. The Texas law operates by locking the lawsuits in state courts, and though it’s not clear the Idaho bill does the same, the Supreme Court’s inaction on striking down the bill might have been a sign it would withstand scrutiny.
Last year, Gov. Little signed a similar “fetal heartbeat” bill that included a trigger provision that requires a federal court to rule in favor of it for it to take effect. Essentially, if the federal court overturns Roe v. Wade, the full bill would go into effect in Idaho without them having to run it through the court channels again.
And while that happening may have seemed impossible a year or two ago, it’s looking more and more like a potential reality by the time summer rolls around. “The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the Texas law to remain in place until a court challenge is decided on its merits,” USA Today explains. “The Texas Supreme Court ruled against abortion providers last week, dealing what many consider to be the final blow to their legal challenges.”
And that blow could open the doors for Idaho – and other states – to ban abortion before fetal viability.
So, what’s next?
“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,” Jennifer M. Allen, CEO of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates said in a statement.
Data has shown that since Texas’s ban went into effect in September, although Texas abortions dropped 60 percent, the need for abortions hasn’t lessened. Some clinics in neighboring states have seen an 800 percent increase in demand for abortion as women cross state borders for the procedure,” The New York Times reports. Vasectomies also reportedly increased.
“It is appalling that anyone could look at the chaos and harm in Texas over the past six months and think, ‘I want that for the people in my state,’” said Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
If Gov. Little signs the new “Fetal Heartbeat, Preborn Child Protection Act,” allowing relatives to sue, it would take effect 30 days later, meaning it could be law by mid-April.