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House passes bill clarifying abortion ban; opponents say it ‘fixes nothing’

Richard Rodriguez
Boise State Public Radio
Pro-abortion rights activists gathered in Boise in 2022.

The Idaho House passed a bill Wednesday to clarify exceptions in the state's criminal abortion ban.

Democrats debated against the bill, saying it did little to solve problems in the state’s near-total abortion ban. That law only has exceptions for cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Violating it is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

The bill doesn’t protect the health of the pregnant mother when complications arise, Democrats said.

“Without a fix for the health of the women, our women run the chance of losing their fertility, not being able to bring a little baby into the world in the future, because we didn’t do enough,” said Rep. Brooke Green (D-Boise).

All but one Democrat walked out of the chamber before the vote.

“We do not want to be part of a charade that fixes nothing,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) in a text to Boise State Public Radio.

All House Republicans supported the measure sponsored by Rep. Megan Blanskma (R-Hammett).

It clarifies that removing a “dead unborn child” or an ectopic pregnancy does not qualify as an abortion. It also attempts to make it easier for victims of rape or incest to quickly obtain a copy of a police report detailing the abuse because they need to submit it to the doctor providing the abortion.

However, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates said the bill narrows the exception for rape and incest because it adds language only allowing abortion in those cases in the victim’s first trimester.

Lawmakers said negotiations on the bill had been going on since the second day of the session up until it was introduced in the State Affairs committee Wednesday afternoon, a couple of hours before the full House vote.

It has the support of anti-abortion groups including Idaho Chooses Life, as well as the Idaho Medical Association, though IMA’s lobbyist Ken McClure said the organization preferred a previous version of the bill.

That one was on the agenda last week but didn’t receive a hearing after the Idaho Republican Party sent out a newsletter advocating against it.

The updated version still allows a physician to provide an abortion if it’s necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman, but it removes the phrase: “or to treat a physical condition of the woman that if left untreated would be life-threatening.”

“It is unfortunate, in this respect, that this does not allow a health exception,” McClure said in the committee hearing Wednesday.

Republicans on the committee indicated that the language allowing physicians to treat conditions that could become life-threatening was removed because it was too broad.

“We want to make sure that ‘health of the mother’ doesn't become so broad that everything becomes an exception to take the life of a potential child,” said Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot). “Because, unfortunately, there are some who take that position and this legislature is not there, and I don’t believe the people of the state of Idaho are there.”

McClure said this bill, though, was a “major improvement” for doctors in removing the affirmative defense section of the abortion ban. That means doctors would now be innocent until proven guilty, whereas, in Idaho’s current law, doctors have the burden of proving an abortion qualified under one of the state’s exceptions.

Medical professionals testifying said it was a small step forward.

“This bill is nowhere close to what we need to preserve our medical specialty and care for women in our state,” said Dr. Emily Corrigan, an OBGYN in Boise. ”But it is very slightly better than what we are living and working under right now.”

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa), who led the negotiations on the bill, also said it was a first step to providing more clarity.

“There is more work to do on the issue,” he said.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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