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Idaho lawmakers approve Texas-styled heartbeat abortion ban, await governor’s signature        

Pro-life sign
A pro-life demonstrator holds up a sign during the 2020 March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 24, 2020. |

Lawmakers in Idaho have passed a modification to the state’s heartbeat abortion ban that, if enacted, would allow private citizens to sue abortion providers, comparable to a law passed in Texas last year.

Known as Senate Bill 1309, the measure was passed by the Idaho House on Monday in a vote of 51 ayes, 14 nays and five abstentions. The bill passed the Idaho Senate earlier this month in a vote of 28 ayes, six nays and one abstention.

The measure, which awaits the signature of Gov. Brad Little, amends a law passed last year that bans most abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detected, which is normally around six weeks into a pregnancy.

Whereas the 2021 law would not take effect until “triggered” by an appeals court decision, the new bill would take effect 30 days after being signed and be enforced by family members who could sue abortion providers for damages.

While the Texas bill allows for anyone who helps facilitate an abortion to be sued, the Idaho bill would limit who can be sued under the law. The Idaho law states that private citizens can sue only abortion providers. 

While Texas law allows private citizens anywhere in the U.S. to sue over an illegal abortion, the Idaho bill limits who can sue for damages to just family members of the aborted child. 

Idaho Family Policy Center contends in a statement that the measure could save around 1,000 babies every year.

“I’m optimistic that Gov. Brad Little will sign this legislation to ensure preborn babies with beating hearts receive the equal protection they deserve,” said IFPC President Blaine Conzatti.

“These proposed changes to the Idaho Heartbeat Law are constitutionally, scientifically, and morally sound. A similar Texas law has successfully withstood several legal challenges in the federal courts, and we’re confident that this Idaho legislation, if it becomes law, will survive any forthcoming legal challenge and begin saving preborn babies.”

The Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the legislation, arguing that it violates the U.S. Constitution by threatening the right to abortion access, which was solidified in the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade.

“Not only is SB1309 blatantly unconstitutional as a near total ban on abortion, but it is also designed in such a manner that undermines the separation of powers and could be weaponized by other states to limit the constitutional rights that we all hold dear,” stated ACLU Idaho Policy Strategist Lauren Bramwell.

“The ACLU will continue advocating for an Idaho that respects and supports each of us in making the deeply personal decisions that determine the shape of our lives, including whether, when and how we choose to have children.”

Last May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law, which prohibits most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Instead of being enforced by state officials, the law is enforced through private citizens who receive financial incentives to sue abortion providers or anyone else in Texas who helps a woman get an illegal abortion.

The law has survived multiple legal challenges. The Texas Supreme Court effectively killed a legal challenge to SB 8 last week by ruling that state officials were not responsible for enforcing the legislation. 

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on whether Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban is constitutional, a case that some believe could lead to the legal precedent set in Roe being altered. 

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