Idaho’s abortion law is strict, but that won’t stop at least three major attempts at tightening it up further this year.
The current law allows first-trimester abortions for a variety of reasons, but limits second-trimester abortions to in-hospital procedures found to be in the “best medical interest” of the mother. It bans all third-trimester abortions except those found by two doctors to be necessary to save the woman’s life, or those where the fetus will not survive if born.
Either performing or seeking an abortion under any other circumstances is a felony.
“Most legislators, when asked about the Idaho Code, they’ll say it’s very restrictive and I don’t know why we need to get involved in it,” said Dennis Mansfield, director of the Idaho Family Forum, a Christian group that’s pushing abortion legislation this year.
“Well, the problem is, to the best of our research, not a single case of inappropriate, illegal or malicious abortion has been prosecuted in Idaho in 25 years.”
Mansfield says that’s because Idaho’s abortion law is “not restrictive - it’s unenforceable.”
So his group has stepped forward with a package of changes in the law that he says will do two things: Amend constitutionally questionable sections of the law to make sure they can be enforced, and add additional restrictions that have been tested in other states and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Family Forum is not alone. At least two other pieces of abortion legislation are expected this year.
House Speaker Mike Simpson, R-Blackfoot, has agreed to work with the Idaho Christian Coalition on a bill to require parental consent before a minor can have an abortion. Current law requires only that parents be notified.
And Sen. Stan Hawkins, R-Ucon, plans to propose legislation to ban a type of abortion procedure that opponents call “partial-birth abortion,” which involves the partial delivery of a fetus during the abortion procedure.
Several groups already have come out against all three bills. Planned Parenthood of Idaho, the Idaho ACLU and the Idaho Women’s Network, in a joint statement, called the bills “a coordinated campaign … to divide the state Legislature and divert attention from finding solutions to the pressing issues facing Idaho.”
Said Jen Ray of the Idaho Women’s Network, “The effect will be to hurt women and their families making difficult and private medical decisions.”
Ray said the reason Idaho hasn’t seen prosecutions is because Idahoans aren’t violating the law, and she blamed the flurry of legislation on election-year politics.
Both Simpson and Hawkins are seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in Idaho’s conservative 2nd District.
Nancy Bloomer, executive director of the Idaho Christian Coalition, said, “We are happy to take advantage of the political climate in 1998 to secure additional protections for Idaho’s young mothers and their unborn children.”
According to the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, there were 1,022 abortions performed in Idaho in 1996, including just one in North Idaho. There were 18,564 live births.
Abortions in Idaho, which have been counted since 1977, hit a peak of 2,706 in 1981. The 1996 figure, although up 5 percent from the previous year, was the second-lowest number since reporting began.
Thirty-nine of Idaho’s 44 counties reported no abortions in 1996.
Simpson, who often is credited with keeping the divisive abortion issue off the Legislature’s agenda in recent years, said in past years he’s asked legislators who wanted to propose abortion legislation to research Idaho’s current situation. In at least two cases, the lawmakers concluded that Idaho law was as tight as it could be, and legislation wasn’t needed.
He said he agreed to look into the parental consent issue because he agrees with the Christian Coalition that such a requirement is needed.
A dentist, Simpson said, “If they (a minor) came in to me with an abscessed tooth, if I pulled that tooth, I could get in a lot of trouble. Yet they could get an abortion without parental consent. That’s ludicrous.”
Hawkins said he’s proposing his bill because he believes Idaho should join other states that have banned “partial-birth” abortions.
The Family Forum bill would:
Delete the requirement that second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital, which Mansfield said is unconstitutional.
Add a parental consent requirement, and a procedure to allow a judge to order it waived in certain circumstances.
Add misdemeanor penalties and professional sanctions for physicians who don’t provide patients with materials about abortion, including pictures of a fetus at each two-week interval of development. Current Idaho law requires physicians to give the patients these materials.
Add new definitions for “fetus,” “unborn child,” and other terms.
Add new requirements for physicians regarding determining viability of fetuses.
Require that a second doctor be present at the abortion of a viable fetus to try to save the fetus’ life.
Require fetal tissue samples to be collected and pathologists’ reports on them to be filed with the state.
Add reporting rules for all abortions, including reports identifying the physician, referring physicians or agencies, the hospital or clinic, the woman’s age, marital status, medical condition and history of pregnancies, the type of procedure performed, the basis for medical judgments, and information about the fetus.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ABORTIONS According to the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, there were 1,022 abortions performed in Idaho in 1996, including just one in North Idaho. The totals are the second-lowest number since reporting began in 1977. Thirty-nine of Idaho’s 44 counties reported no abortions in 1996.