June 16, 2024


The Legal System

Idaho Governor Calls Abortion Law ‘Unwise’ but Signs It Anyway


Gov. Brad Little of Idaho signed a strict new abortion bill into law on Wednesday, even as he expressed grave concerns about the wisdom and constitutionality of the measure and warned that it could retraumatize victims of sexual assault.

Modeled after a new law in Texas, the Idaho legislation bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy — before many women are aware they are pregnant — and allows family members of what it calls “a preborn child” to sue the abortion provider. Mr. Little, a Republican, said the law could conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which established a constitutional right to abortion.

“While I support the pro-life policy in this legislation, I fear the novel civil enforcement mechanism will in short order be proven both unconstitutional and unwise,” Mr. Little wrote in a message to Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is also president of the State Senate. The state attorney general’s office had previously issued an opinion saying that the bill would effectively prohibit all abortions and that it would most likely be found unconstitutional.

Mr. Little warned that liberal states could embrace the same legal tactic to limit religious or firearm rights.

The governor, who is running for re-election this year and faces a far-right challenge from Ms. McGeachin, said he also had “significant concerns with the unintended consequences this legislation will have on victims of sexual assault.” While the law makes limited exceptions for cases of rape — specifying, for example, that rapists cannot file lawsuits against abortion providers — it does allow their family members to file suit.

“Ultimately, this legislation risks retraumatizing victims by affording monetary incentives to wrongdoers and family members of rapists,” Mr. Little wrote. He encouraged the Legislature, which is controlled by wide Republican majorities, to rectify any unintended consequences of the legislation.

Under the Roe decision, states cannot ban abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb — typically after around 23 weeks. But in December, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.

The court also declined to intervene to halt the Texas law, which allows any civilian to sue anyone who “aids or abets” a woman in getting an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks. The Idaho bill, which focuses on allowing family members to sue abortion providers, establishes a minimum award of $20,000 and legal fees. Lawsuits can be filed up to four years after an abortion.

Data shows that abortions in Texas have dropped 60 percent since the law took effect in September, while clinics in neighboring states have seen demand surge. Lawmakers in Oregon, which neighbors Idaho, recently approved $15 million to expand abortion access — money that could be used to pay expenses for people traveling to Oregon to obtain an abortion.

Opponents of the Idaho law mobilized over the weekend, urging Mr. Little to veto the measure. The law will go into effect in 30 days.

On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood, which operates clinics in the state, said its facilities would remain open and that it was considering a legal challenge to stop the law from going into effect.

“This law is unconstitutional, dangerous and an assault on the hundreds of thousands of Idahoans of reproductive age,” said Jennifer M. Allen, the chief executive of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. “There is no excuse or justification for the trauma and harm this law will cause.”

Several other states are considering legislation based on the strategy taken by Texas and Idaho. Oklahoma’s House of Representatives approved a similar measure on Tuesday but went even further, banning abortions at any point during pregnancy unless needed “to save the life of the mother.”


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