As the 2011 Legislature winds down, debate over health and welfare bills is heating up.
In addition to a Monday vote that cut Medicaid funding by $108 million, the Idaho Senate passed a 20-week abortion ban last Wednesday, bringing Idaho closer to a Nebraska law that bans all "elective" abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.
The bill will now pass to the House State Affairs Committee.
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she voted against the bill on the Senate floor.
"This is a poorly written bill that is unconstitutional, does not show compassion and incriminates physicians," she stated in a news release.
The premise of the bill is that fetuses at 20 weeks can feel pain, which the legislation states is backed by "substantial medical evidence."
Stennett contends that the bill would prohibit the termination of fetuses with rare deformities or diseases that would make them unable to survive outside the womb.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, predicted that the bill would "certainly" pass the full House, but said she would not be voting for it.
"How are we supposed to identify fetal pain?" she said. "It's vague."
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, sponsored the bill and argued that the government should be concerned when there is a possibility that a fetus could suffer during an abortion.
"I think it's worthwhile for us to consider," Winder said during Wednesday's debate.
The bill would allow abortions after 20 weeks in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother's life. Debate in the Senate mostly centered on the bill's provision for the unborn child's father to pursue legal action if the mother does procure an abortion after 20 weeks, a provision that could allow a rapist to litigate against a victim.
Jaquet said her concern is that the bill would cost the state money in potential legal fees. The Idaho Attorney General's Office has issued two opinions declaring the bill unconstitutional, and the state has already spent more than $730,000 in the past decade to defend restrictive abortion laws.
"I'm really tired of all of these things that go through that we have to spend money on," Jaquet said. "It's just another big cost to the state."
The fiscal note to the bill states that a similar law in Nebraska has not been challenged and no costs have been incurred. The same could hold true for Idaho if the bill is passed and not challenged.
In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court unequivocally protected a woman's right to have an abortion in the first trimester, and granted states the right to prohibit abortions after a fetus's "viability," that is its ability to survive outside the womb. The court noted that that generally occurs after about 28 weeks of pregnancy, though it can happen after as few as 24 weeks.
Idaho code already bans abortions after 24 weeks unless the life of the mother is in danger or the fetus would not survive outside the womb.
State opposition to abortion is nothing new, said Mary Durand, legislative counsel for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest in Idaho.
"In Idaho, this happens every session," Durand said. "Every year, we see at least two abortion bills."
"They haven't seen an abortion bill they haven't loved," Jaquet said of this year's Legislature.
According to Secretary Camille Luna, the bill is set to come before the House State Affairs Committee today.
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Stennett's bill to become law
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, will finally see her first sponsored bill become law this week. The bill establishes protocol for flying a flag commemorating prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action on government and other public buildings. Though flying such a flag was not strictly prohibited by Idaho code, neither was it expressly allowed. Stennett's bill was held up in committee due to technicalities, but was passed by the House on Wednesday. It is now awaiting the governor's signature.