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Idaho abortion ban poised to take effect in light of Supreme Court leak

The Idaho State Flag hanging inside the Statehouse Rotunda.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Anti-abortion advocates in Idaho are cheering a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that, if it takes effect, would once again give states the right to regulate the procedure.

The 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, as well as the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, blocked states from restricting abortion access before a fetus could survive outside of the womb.

Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the leaked decision by Justice Samuel Alito Tuesday, though it doesn’t necessarily represent justices’ final opinions. Roberts also vowed the court will investigate the source of the leak.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,”wrote Alito in the draft. “Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.”

Should that opinion hold, a trigger law passed by Idaho lawmakers in 2020 would criminalize most abortions in the state. The only exceptions to the ban include cases of rape and incest, as well as when the life of the mother is threatened.

Doctors who perform an abortion after it takes effect would face a prison sentence between two to five years. Their medical license would also be suspended for six months for the first offense and completely revoked after a second offense.

The law would take effect 30 days following a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

“I think Alito is correct in saying there’s no history or precedent or mention or reference to a constitutional right to an abortion in the U.S. Constitution,” said state Sen. Todd Lakey (R-Nampa), who was one of the main sponsors of the 2020 trigger law.

An attorney himself, Lakey said Tuesday he could “see the face and makeup of the court changing” while drafting the bill to one that would leave it up to states to decide how abortion should be controlled within their borders.

“The idea in passing the trigger law was to have that ready to go really to save as many lives of the unborn as possible so we didn’t have to delay and come back into session to address it,” he said.

Lakey's co-sponsor, House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett), said she only supports abortions in limited circumstances, like when a woman becomes pregnant due to rape or incest.

Otherwise, Blanksma said access to the procedure shouldn't be easy.

“I think that you’ve made your choices and now you have to live with them and you don’t get to make choices on behalf of a new life,” she said.

State Sen. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise), a pro-abortion rights advocate, said her heart “sunk” upon reading the news Monday night.

“I sat there on my couch just kind of stunned,” Wintrow said.

While the law does include carveouts for rape and incest, survivors must report the crime to law enforcement and provide a police report to the physician performing the abortion before they can undergo the procedure.

But those reports are rarely available while an investigation is ongoing.

“It’s disingenuous to say that somebody who’s been raped can just go and get a report,” said Wintrow. “That’s not true.”

Gov. Brad Little (R) raised similar concerns in March whenhe signed another bill restricting access to abortion that contained similar exceptions.

“…the challenges and delays inherent in obtaining the requisite police report render the exception meaningless for many,”Little wrote.

When asked about those difficulties Tuesday, Blanksma said additional legislation may be needed to ensure those exceptions are realistic.

Only about one-third of sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, and even fewer lead to an arrest, let alone a conviction.

Idaho currently has three clinics providing abortions – all in the southern part of the state. Should those clinics close, the closest provider for those who live in or near Boise is about 250 miles away in Walla Walla, Washington.

Last month,States Newsroom reported a Planned Parenthood branch in Portland would open a new clinic in the border town of Ontario, Oregon.

While that would greatly decrease the travel time for Idahoans in the Treasure Valley to get an abortion, Wintrow said, “No one should have to do that.”

“This is a private medical decision that should be made in the privacy of the exam room with a patient and their doctor.”

Given the possibility of a new abortion clinic opening roughly 50 miles from Boise, Lakey said he wishes other states would take a similar stance as Idaho when it comes to the procedure.

“We can only control what we control in Idaho, and in Idaho, it’s important we take a strong stand for life,” he said.

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

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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