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Eye On Boise

Party-line vote introduces new anti-abortion bill, despite constitutional questions

Senators raised lots of questions this morning before agreeing on a party-line vote to introduce new anti-abortion legislation that many fear won’t pass constitutional muster and would be overturned in court. Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, told the Senate State Affairs Committee that his “Idaho Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Act” would target a specific abortion procedure that Nate said differs from what’s been called a “partial-birth abortion” and Nate called a “dismemberment abortion,” saying, “It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb.”

“This law does not create an undue burden because as was the case with the ‘partial-birth abortion’ ban, other methods could be used,” Nate told the senators. “There’s at least five other abortion procedures available even if this one is banned. The dismemberment abortion is a brutal and gruesome procedure and it damages the integrity and ethics of the medical profession.”

The bill includes an exception to its ban on the procedure only if without it, the woman would die or suffer physical loss of a “major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions.” It also states, “No such condition may be determined to exist if it is based on a claim or diagnosis that the woman will engage in conduct with she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, asked Nate, “So that says that if the woman’s committing suicide, the preference would be for her to commit suicide rather than to terminate. Is that what you intend to say, Rep. Nate?” He responded by reading from the bill, and said, “I’m not a medical attorney and I think that’s the value of a full hearing, we’d get that cleared up.” Buckner-Webb persisted, “So is the intention that we would rather a woman kill herself than terminate a pregnancy?”

“No, that would not be my determination,” Nate responded.

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, asked Nate if he’d obtained an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion about the bill. Nate said he had, but he thought the Attorney General’s office had inadvertently focused on a different procedure than the one he intended to ban with the bill. “I think there’s been some confusion here in working with the Attorney General’s office,” he said. “I’m not an abortion attorney by any means; a lot of us here are fishes out of water in the areas that we cover. In a full hearing we could bring in some legal expert testimony to answer questions regarding that as well.”

Davis said, “I need us to be able to help the Attorney General’s office, that will be the lawyers that defend the litigation, believe in the legislation. You and I are on the same page. We don’t have a different heart at all on this issue, but I don’t want to lose the legislation, I don’t want to have an academic and political and value-based exercise that folks in black robes don’t respect as much as the two of us do. So I have to have our litigators believe in it also, not litigators that aren’t going to be part of that litigation.”

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said, “I’m happy to support as many lawful restrictions on this practice as we can. At the same time, I want to make sure that we win when there’s a challenge. As we print this, that will facilitate some additional discussion with the Attorney General’s office, and enable us to hopefully develop some additional comfort or perhaps an additional modification of the legislation. But I think that it’s important that we print this and have those discussions.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “This legislation has already come up before other states and has been deemed unconstitutional, and I inherently dislike trying to pass things that we know aren’t going to pass constitutional muster. … I’m also disturbed about some of the verbiage. … There are some terms in here that are not medical terms.” Davis had already moved to introduce the bill; Stennett offered a substitute motion to reject it instead.

Stennett’s motion failed on a party-line vote, with only her and Buckner-Webb supporting it; Davis’s then passed on a party-line vote with only the two Democrats dissenting. Stennett said, “I hope we remember that there are many other good ideas out there that didn’t get the same consideration.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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