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Idaho governor signs abortion ban modeled on Texas law

Gov. Brad Little wrote that although he was backing the bill, he believed that the enforcement mechanism will quickly be "proven both unconstitutional and unwise."

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy - before many women realize they are pregnant - into law Wednesday.

The governor's signature came less than an hour before the deadline at which the bill would have become law without his approval. 

The bill, which is modeled off a similar abortion ban in Texas, allows the father, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles of a “preborn child” to each sue an abortion provider for a minimum of $20,000 in damages within four years after the abortion. Rapists can’t file a lawsuit under the law, but a rapist’s relatives could.

The measure passed the Senate 28-6 and the House 51-14 with no Democratic support. Three House Republicans voted against the measure. Republicans have super-majorities in both the House and Senate.  

In a letter, Little wrote that although he was backing the bill, he believed that the enforcement mechanism "will in short order be proven both unconstitutional and unwise."

Credit: Zoran Tesic

"Deputizing private citizens to levy hefty monetary fines on the exercise of a disfavored but judicially recognized constitutional right for the purpose of evading court review undermines our constitutional form of government and weakens our collective liberties," Little wrote. 

The governor continued that states like California and New York could bring the same method to bear against their residents' rights to free speech or the right to own a gun.

"None of the rights we treasure are off limits," he wrote.

Little also expressed concern over "unintended consequences" from the legislation that will have on sexual assault victims. 

"Ultimately this legislation risks retraumatizing victims by affording monetary incentives to wrongdoers and family members of rapists," he wrote.

The new law is set to go into effect in 30 days.

The bill was modeled after a Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to remain in place until a court challenge is decided on its merits. The Texas law allows ordinary citizens to enforce the law in place of state officials who normally would do so. The Texas law authorizes lawsuits against clinics, doctors and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion that is not permitted by law.

A number of other states are pursuing similar laws, including Tennessee, which introduced a Texas-styled abortion bill on Tuesday.

Relatives would be allowed to sue any doctor who performs an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo.  Advanced technology can detect a first flutter of electric activity within cells in an embryo as early as six weeks. This flutter isn’t a beating heart, it’s cardiac activity that will eventually become a heart. An embryo is termed a fetus after the eighth week of pregnancy, and the actual heart begins to form between the ninth and 12th weeks of pregnancy.

Republican Rep. Steven Harris, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement after the vote on Monday, March 14: “This bill makes sure that the people of Idaho can stand up for our values and do everything in our power to prevent the wanton destruction of innocent human life.”

Pro-life clinics around Idaho, like Stanton Healthcare, believe this bill will help women with unexpected pregnancies and their families and friends discover alternative resources to an abortion.

"Ninety percent of [the women we see in our clinic] who are seeking an abortion or considering an abortion report feeling pressured by someone they trust," said Linda Thomas, the director for community outreach for Stanton Healthcare. "It's incredibly important to give them the support they want because no woman wakes up in the morning wanting to have an abortion."

The bill's signing drew immediate condemnation from women's health and legal advocacy groups, with Planned Parenthood noting that opponents sent over 13,000 messages and made 3,100 calls asking lawmakers to reject the bill

"Shame on Governor Little. This law is unconstitutional, dangerous, and an assault on the hundreds of thousands of Idahoans of reproductive age," said Jennifer M. Allen, CEO of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. "This cruel ban will harm the very people who already face the highest barriers to health care: people with low incomes, people of color, people living in rural areas, and LGBTQ people. There is no excuse or justification for the trauma and harm this law will cause. The people of Idaho deserve better than politicians who put extremist politics ahead of their constituents' health and safety." 

Idaho State Director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Misti DelliCarpini-Tolman said this new bill will have "chilling effects" on providers in the Gem State. 

According to the Texas Health and Human Commission, abortions in the Lone Star State dropped 60 percent within their bill's first month.

"We are anticipating a similar outcome here in Idaho as well," said DelliCarpini-Tolman.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said there are no plans to shutter abortion providers in the Gem State.

"If the governor's signing of this cruel, unconstitutional copycat legislation inspires anything, let it be rage and action," she wrote. "We will not sit idly by as Idahoans' right to abortion is stripped from them. We've said it before and we'll say it again: Planned Parenthood's doors remain open in Idaho, and we will continue fighting for patients and our communities."

"We're committed to helping our patients in Idaho get the care that they need, we're going to continue to provide critical healthcare services and educational resources," DelliCarpini-Tolman said.

White House Response

Shortly after the bill was passed, the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, sent a statement on the matter.

"This development is devastating for women in Idaho, as it will further impede women’s access to health care, especially those on low incomes and living in rural communities."

"This is unacceptable, which is why President Biden directed a whole of government response to protect women’s rights that are currently under attack."

"The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to stand with women and support their right to make their own health care decisions, a constitutional right that Roe v. Wade reaffirmed nearly five decades ago."

Click here for the full White House press release.

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