Two strict anti-abortion bills cleared a Senate committee Wednesday, although one was tagged for extensive amendments.
Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Hayden, co-sponsor of the bill targeted for amendment, said he is “very disappointed.”
As the tense three-hour hearing broke up, Alltus said, “They had it all planned before they walked in the door.
“We heard about their amendments this morning and that they were going to pass out (House Bill) 576 so that they could say they had voted against … a heinous procedure and that they were going to gut House Bill 610.”
HB576 seeks to ban so-called “partial-birth” abortions, although opponents say the language is so broad that the measure affects much more than only the targeted late-term abortion procedure.
HB610, proposed by the Idaho Family Forum and co-sponsored by Alltus, seeks to bring Idaho’s abortion laws up to constitutional standards and to add a series of restrictions, including parental consent requirements.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 6-3 to send HB576 to the full Senate for a vote. The committee voted 5-4 to put HB610 up for amendments, which opens it to amendments offered by any senator.
Committee members outlined a long series of amendments they think HB610 needs.
“They’re trying to hide behind voting yes on partial-birth abortion,” Alltus said. “They should’ve just come right out and killed the bill, if that’s what their intent was to do.”
However, Dennis Mansfield, director of the Idaho Family Forum, was ecstatic.
“What a day,” he said. “A 6-3 vote on partial-birth abortion - that really is a show of leadership in the Senate.”
Although lawmakers have been pushing to adjourn the legislative session by the end of next week, Mansfield said he was confident adequate time would be given to amend HB 610 in the Senate, then seek House concurrence with the amendments.
Oddly, both Senate President Protem Jerry Twiggs and Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman John Hansen spoke strongly against the late-term abortion bill before voting in favor of it.
Twiggs, R-Blackfoot, asked repeatedly if anyone testifying to the committee had ever heard of the abortion procedure being performed in Idaho. None had.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk today about saving an unborn fetus’ life,” Twiggs said before he cast his vote. “I don’t think we’re going to do this by passing this bill. I don’t think it’s going to stop anything.”
Two legal opinions from the Idaho attorney general declared the measure unconstitutional, and near-identical language has been overturned in several other states.
Twiggs said he didn’t like the idea of wasting money by passing an unconstitutional law that’s sure to be challenged in court. Idaho already has joined with other states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an Ohio law; that only cost the state about $10, Twiggs said.
But he said people in his district seem to want such a bill, and he suspected if the Legislature didn’t pass it the issue would keep coming back until it did.
Hansen, R-Idaho Falls, also pointing out problems in the bill, said the definition of the banned procedure seemed unclear.
Brenda Pratt Schaffer, a nurse from Ohio who testifies around the country for bans on procedure, described in graphic detail how she saw it performed on healthy women in late stages of pregnancy.
Hansen responded, “Thank you very much, and frankly what you’ve described would be against the law in Idaho.”
Idaho’s abortion laws already ban all third-trimester abortions except to save the life of the mother or when the fetus wouldn’t survive outside the womb.
Hansen said he believes HB 576 is clearly unconstitutional, but he also thought a restrictive abortion law he voted for in 1990 was unconstitutional. “An overwhelming number of my constituents wanted it passed,” he said.
Hansen said he agreed with Twiggs that it might be quicker to just pass the law and let it be challenged in court, than to see the issue come back to the Legislature year after year.
Both Hansen and Twiggs were targeted by the Idaho Family Forum with radio ad campaigns in their districts, suggesting they might kill the abortion bills and urging constituents to contact them.
Mansfield said Wednesday, “I don’t think the pressure anybody puts on anybody changes anything.”
But he also said the success of the anti-abortion legislation was due to the “thousands of moms and dads” who called their legislators.
He added, “Whatever we’ve seen so far is going to be multiplied.”
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Possible amendments When House Bill 610 comes up for amendment in the Senate, any senator may offer amendments. Here are the amendments proposed Thursday by the Senate State Affairs Committee: Allow minors who can’t get parental consent for an abortion to seek a court order anywhere in the state, rather than just in their home county. Add a medical emergency exception to the parental consent requirements. Shorten the restrictive language in the clause in the bill that would allow third-trimester abortions if the mother’s health is endangered. Delete requirements for a pathology report on aborted fetuses. Delete extensive new reporting requirements on abortions. In addition, committee member Sen. Sheila Sorensen, R-Boise, said she’ll propose an amendment to delete the parental consent requirements.