BOISE – The Idaho House reluctantly agreed Wednesday to repeal two Idaho laws forbidding doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs by phone or other electronic devices.
The 52-18 vote came after a debate that left some representatives in tears. It was prompted by a court decision that found the 2015 laws unconstitutional.
“Mr. Speaker, this may be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in this place,” Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, the bill’s sponsor, said as he opened the debate. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a very difficult situation.”
Under a court settlement, a federal judge is awaiting action by the Legislature to repeal the laws, which no longer are being enforced; if it doesn’t act, he’ll declare both laws unconstitutional in a precedent-setting decision. The anti-abortion groups that pushed the bills in the first place now want them repealed to bolster their legal position for future litigation, including in other states. When the bills first passed in 2015, the groups said they wanted to prohibit “web-cam abortions,” though none had occurred in Idaho.
Just hours after the House vote, Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council, which is chaired by Gov. Butch Otter and includes the top leaders of the House and Senate and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, voted unanimously to pay $151,210 in attorney fees and costs to Planned Parenthood in the case. “This is a negotiated amount of attorney fees in litigation in this case; we owe the money,” Wasden said.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said he believes there should be more check on the power of courts.
“I stand here now to explain for the record my ‘no’ vote. My pro-life world view is no secret to this body.” Barbieri told the House. “Though my countenance is calm and my words are measured, in my heart I am wildly gesticulating, I am passionately pleading, indeed, crying crocodile tears over the devastation, the destruction, the blood and the death that is the abortion industry.”
Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, broke down as she said she’d vote yes.
“It’s totally because we will be able to live to fight another day and there are no words to express,” she said, breaking off.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who voted against the bill, noted many in the body voted against the measures in 2015 and believe they are unconstitutional; she also noted Wednesday’s vote was taking place on International Women’s Day.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, urged a “no” vote.
“If this were a gun issue, we would be standing up as a sovereign state and saying no, not in our state,” she said. “But this isn’t a gun issue, this is a baby issue, so we draw the line here, and acquiesce to this because it’s not a gun issue. … You can stand up in a sovereign state and say no. Idaho legislators write law, not court rulings.”
Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, said the Legislature was not adequately represented in negotiations for a settlement. “So now what we’ve gotta do is work smarter not harder,” he said. “We’ve gotta vote for this so we can address this issue successfully somewhere down the line.”
The 18 “no” votes came from 11 Democrats and seven Republicans, including Barbieri, Scott, and Reps. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, and Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins. All other North Idaho representatives voted in favor of the repeal, which will next be considered by the Senate.
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