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Politics & Government

Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Ban Passes Out Of Idaho Senate Committee

capitol, statehouse, idaho
Emilie Ritter Saunders
Boise State Public Radio

A state senate committee has signed off on a bill that would make abortion in Idaho illegal after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

About a dozen of these kinds of bills have been passed in states across the country and all are tied up in the courts.

The proposal would outlaw abortions after about five to six weeks of pregnancy when a heartbeat could be detected – before many women know they’re pregnant.

The bill does have an exception for rape or incest, but a woman would need to have a court, police agency or doctor attest that she was raped. It also excludes medical emergencies when the life of a woman is at risk.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge (R-Huston), said the state should protect those who cannot speak for themselves.

“We are given the opportunity to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that includes everyone – including the pre-born babies,” Lodge said.

Public testimony on the issue was pretty evenly split among the pro- and anti-abortion sides. 

Some who supported the concept of the bill criticized it for not going far enough, though.

“The rest of this legislation is nothing but mumbo jumbo to confuse the people of its real intent and that is to allow murder of innocent human beings without consequence,” said Margie Baker who testified Monday morning.

Several physicians testified remotely Monday morning against the bill, including Dr. Rachel Chisausky.

“This dangerous bill uses medically inaccurate information to jeopardize our right to bodily autonomy,” Chisausky said.

She said she prefers to consult with her pregnant patients a few weeks after a heartbeat could be detected when a fetus is more developed and better able to be determined if it’s “viable.”

Many women who supported the bill spoke about their own abortions they now regret.

One woman, Lori Burelle, representing the Idaho chapter of the National Organization for Women, said she didn’t regret her abortion. Burelle said she had just escaped a toxic relationship and was drinking to cope with a then-undiagnosed anxiety order when she found out she was pregnant.

Lodge asked her why she didn’t consider adoption.

“Because I was an alcoholic,” Burelle said.

In 2019, the most recent data available, doctors in Idaho performed 1,513 abortions – a 20% increase from 2018. The vast majority of these abortions were performed at 10 weeks of pregnancy or earlier.

If approved by the Idaho legislature and signed into law, the bill would only take effect if a federal appeals court, or the U.S. Supreme Court, found another state’s law to be constitutional.

The bill’s fiscal analysis doesn’t anticipate any costs because of that. But

Sen. Grant Burgyone (D-Boise), who’s also a lawyer, said this bill could still end up costing Idaho a lot of money in court.

That’s because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles federal cases out of Idaho, doesn’t have to recognize another appeals court ruling.

“When we legislate in this area in this way, we are legislating religion and our Constitution says we cannot do that,” Burgoyne said.

Last year, the Idaho lawmakers and Gov. Brad Little implemented a law that would criminalize all abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade decision, or if the U.S. Constitution were amended to outlaw abortion.

Lodge’s bill now heads to the full Senate where she expects it to be taken up soon.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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