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Idaho lawmakers working on abortion law debate

Legislators are considering changes to Idaho's criminal abortion law to make clear when an abortion is legal.

BOISE, Idaho — As lawmakers are heading into the end of the legislative session, they still have a major topic to tackle in Idaho’s abortion laws. Recent court decisions have given Idaho lawmakers insight to how they can best word the law, a law that some in the medical community said was vague.

House Majority Leader, Rep. Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett), planned to see a pitch on the topic advance this week.

“Multiple parties had worked on it, but in the end it wasn't enough to satisfy everyone," Blanksma said. "So, we're going back to the drawing board. I believe we have some new language that we're working out and we're going to try to put something together to get it out by the end of session."

Although the exact bill is still being worked out, Blanksma and multiple stakeholders have drafted ideas for a clear and concise law. One change discussed by lawmakers and stakeholders is a priority for pending abortion legislation.

“I think the general goal that one thing that all parties seem to be agreeing on is getting rid of the affirmative defense. That seems to be something that everybody agrees on, and then the details around that is where it gets sticky," Blanksma said. "So, I think we're just waiting to see what we can get everybody to come to the table on and I would think that you would see something here shortly."

As it stands now, Idaho’s code outlaws abortion in all cases with the exceptions of rape or incest reported to law enforcement or when the pregnancy threatens the life of a mother.

The current law includes an exemption, an "affirmative defense," that must be proven in court by a "preponderance of evidence" (more likely than not), for abortions performed when a doctor, "in good faith medical judgment and based on the facts known to the physician at the time," has determined the abortion was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman. Some believed that affirmative defense bar was too high.

Blanksma said insight from the judicial system through court cases has been valuable.

“I would argue it's not a clean up bill. I mean, we obviously had a very good decision from the Idaho Supreme Court," Blanksma said. "I think this is just essentially codifying what we already know based upon that decision and just making it just a little bit clearer."

As lawmakers were set to hear a bill created by legislators and stakeholders on the topic, the Idaho Republican Party sent an email blast claiming the proposal was from a closed-door, back-room deal to give doctors ‘leeway to perform abortions.’ That email created questions about if the abortion law will see context added this session.

“I am not concerned about that email from the Chairman because we are working on solving a problem and that's what we're doing. That bill might not be the answer. We didn't know that it wasn't the answer until very late at night, and so we kind of shelved it," Blanksma said. "We're working on a new solution because I think in the end, the Republicans of the Idaho House are focused on finding solutions to problems, and that's what we do."

To put it simply, lawmaking is not always a linear journey.

“Nothing is static here, everything's always moving, and so we're trying to do the best with the tools that we have," Blanksma said. "In that process, sometimes stuff comes out that people don't necessarily like, but there's always the opportunity to go back."

So, with time winding down, what does the timeline look like for abortion legislation?

“I think quickly. They're still working on it. I still don't have an RS to introduce, but I would look to maybe [Friday] morning," Blanksma said. "I'm not sure. I don't have a firm commitment on when we're going to do that yet."   

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