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'Texas style' abortion bill passes Idaho Senate on party-line vote

The legislation would allow a doctor to be sued by a family member of a pregnant woman if they perform an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in a fetus.

BOISE, Idaho — On the topic of abortion, the Idaho Senate made a major move to add on to the 2021 'fetal heartbeat' abortion ban.

“Senate Bill 1309 updates last year's legislation to include the private enforcement mechanism modeled after the Texas Act,” said bill sponsor, Republican Senator Patti Anne Lodge

In short, the legislation allows certain family members of a pregnant woman to file a lawsuit against an abortion provider who did an abortion on a woman after the fetus has detectable cardiac activity. Similar to the legislation passed in 2021 banning abortions after a heartbeat is detected, SB 1309 only goes into effect if another state with a similar law has it upheld in court.  

As expected, the debate on the Senate floor included emotional arguments from both sides. Critics on the Senate floor highlighted issues with family members becoming the enforcement of the legislation.

“I'm sorry, I like a lot of my family members, but there are several of them that we don't agree on health care issues, and I wouldn't want them weighing in on what I should be doing with my own personal health care,” said Democrat Senator Michelle Stennett.

Supporters said it was imperative to protect life, specifically life that cannot defend itself.

“If it is not alive, why does it require outside intervention to terminate it? And since it has its own DNA its own circulatory system and often have a different blood type, sex, or even race different from the mothers, it cannot logically be considered the body of the mother,” said Republican Senator C. Scott Grow.

Lawmakers went back and forth debating the merits and value of the legislation.

“This legislation only represents one voice, one strong voice from Texas. It is not an Idaho bill written for Idahoans representing the voice of different Idahoans. It doesn't represent Idaho, and it surely doesn't represent the hundreds and hundreds of constituents in my district who have contacted me as asking me to vote no,” said Democrat Senator Carrie Semmelroth.

Republican Senator Christy Zito pushed back on comments about when life starts.

“Grieves my soul greatly when I hear God's greatest creation, which is his children referred to as a clump of cells. And I don't care what stage of development that is. A life is a life,” Zito said.

In reference to abortion laws in Texas and those being considered by the Supreme Court, some lawmakers raised questions about the legislation even being constitutional. 

“We're going to have a Supreme Court ruling from the federal government, and we've got some time. That's soon. So if we have to remodel it if they're counting on the ruling. But I think we should wait and see what the ruling is. I think this is a little bit too quick,” said Republican Senator Jim Patrick.

Others argued it’s a gray area worth risking it for.

“The tentative constitutional status of the Texas law makes it unclear as to what the law of the land really is until that decision is finally made. Let's take advantage of this opportunity to halt the slaughter of the unborn in Idaho,” said Senator Grow.

As the debate concluded, both critics and supporters made powerful emotional arguments.

“I am adopted and if it was not for my mother's decision not to have an abortion, I would not be here and we are here today as a body to be that voice to be the voice of those that cannot speak,” said Republican Senator Robert Bair.

Several lawmakers defended a woman's right to choose and respecting the autonomy of a woman,

“The bill itself feels violent to me. It feels like an attack on me as a human being able and capable of my own moral decisions about my body. Now, a government agency, the whole state of Idaho, is enabling my family to come after me if I make a choice,” said Democrat Senator Melissa Wintrow.

The legislation passed the Idaho Senate 28-6-1 after more than an hour of debate. SB 1309 now heads to the Idaho House.

Is Idaho’s law a copy and paste from Texas? No.

Idaho's law does include an exception for rape, incest, and medical emergencies. The legislation in Texas doesn't have that.

Another big difference is that Texas law allows people to sue someone outside of the person who performed an abortion, that person must assist a woman in getting an abortion. For example, in Texas, someone who drove a woman to an abortion clinic can be sued too. Idaho’s legislation is limited in scope compared to Texas and only allows a family member to sue the doctor.

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