Idaho Republican Congressman Russ Fulcher on the ‘sanctity of life’
Abortion has been legal in all 50 states since the landmark case of Roe v. Wade in 1973.
But with the recent ascent of conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court and other high courts, more than a dozen states have passed laws restricting abortions, setting up a legal battle that could lead to a challenge of Roe v. Wade.
In just the last few weeks, five states have banned abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected and one state has banned virtually all abortions.
Idaho has not yet jumped into the fray by enacting more restrictive abortion laws like these other states, but some state lawmakers want to.
Abortion in Idaho: What’s allowed?
Abortion is allowed in Idaho with the following restrictions:
▪ Illegal after “viability,” which is when the fetus can survive outside the womb.
▪ Mandatory counseling and 24-hour waiting period.
▪ Minors under age 18 need consent of one parent/guardian or the court.
▪ Third trimester and partial-birth abortions allowed only if the woman’s life is in danger.
State law requires Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to annually report on induced abortions performed in the state.
Since 2000, the highest annual number of abortions was 1,650 in 2009. The lowest: 801 in 2000.
In 2017, the most recent year available, Idaho reported 1,285 abortions. Of those:
▪ 1,024 were performed in Ada County, 258 in Twin Falls County and three in Valley County.
▪ 39 were performed on women ages 10 to 17; 108 ages 18-19; 731 ages 20 to 29; 360 ages 30 to 39; and 47 were age 40 or older.
▪ 38 of the 39 minors who had an abortion received written consent from a parent or guardian, one received consent from a court.
▪ 92.3% of the abortions were performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
▪ 56.7% were surgical procedures, 43.3% were nonsurgical chemically induced abortions.
▪ 99.3% reported no complications.
Idaho does not report the number of abortions performed due to life endangerment, rape or incest.
Nationally, 926,200 abortions were performed in 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Abortions in Idaho represent 0.1% of all abortions in the U.S., according to Guttmacher. Idaho’s abortion rate of 4.2 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age is among the lowest in the nation. The national average is 14.6.
Idaho holds back as other states advance legislation
So far this year, more than one dozen states have passed a barrage of laws restricting abortion.
Earlier this month, Alabama passed a near total ban on abortions by making it a felony to perform an abortion except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger. Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio each passed a “fetal heartbeat” bill that bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected.
On Thursday, Louisiana became the fifth state to enact a “fetal heartbeat” bill when its Democratic governor signed a ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, the Associated Press reports.
Some states have passed abortion ban “trigger” laws, which go into effect immediately if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided, Idaho enacted a trigger law calling for mandatory prison terms for women having illegal abortions and the doctors who perform them. That law, which would have gone into effect if the high court ruling were reversed, was repealed in 1990.
While other state legislatures are aggressively passing more restrictive abortion laws since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, Idaho has not.
In 2017, the Idaho Legislature printed three abortion-related bills. Two passed: one clarifies language on an existing ban on using aborted remains or stem cells for medical research, the other bans prescribing abortion-inducing drugs via telehealth. Another bill requiring additional information be provided to women considering a chemical abortion did not get a committee hearing.
In 2018, the Legislature passed two abortion-related bills. One requires Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to collect data on abortion-related health complications, the other requires the health department to provide additional information to women considering a chemical abortion.
In 2019, the Legislature printed three abortion-related bills, of which, two passed. One clarifies language in the abortion complication reporting law passed in 2018, the other updates the state’s partial-birth abortion ban to align it with federal law, which prohibits partial-birth abortions except when necessary to save a woman’s life.
One proposal that did not gain traction this session is the Idaho Abortion Human Rights Act sponsored by North Idaho Republican Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and John Green, R-Post Falls. The proposal would repeal the section of state law that prohibits prosecuting women who get abortions and doctors who perform them with murder. The draft bill did not get a print hearing, the first step of the legislative process.
Scott told the Statesman this week they plan to bring the bill back next session.
During a May 18 Kootenai County GOP legislator town hall in Hayden, Green said their proposal would “would remove the exception for abortion from the murder statute. This would say in Idaho abortion is murder. We will treat it as murder. If you participate in a crime, you will be prosecuted.”
Green said the main push back he got on the bill, “is we can’t make abortion a criminal act in all cases because we cannot punish the mothers for participating in abortion. So, what we are saying is we can’t punish a mother for murdering her child,” Green said.
“There are arguments that say women are coerced or pressured,” Green continued. “I see these women on TV celebrating their abortions. Were they pressured into it? They are partying because they think they have this right to take a human life without consequence.”
During the same town hall meeting, Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, was asked if Idaho is going to pass a bill banning abortion after five weeks, also called the “heartbeat bill.”
“I would love to see Idaho ban abortion from the beginning,” she said. “I am excited to see some of these other states take some bold action.”
Souza said there is one thing “inhibiting” Idaho from taking such bold action and banning or further restricting abortion.
“The reason we are in more of a jam here in Idaho is because we have a federal court judge here who is extremely liberal and then it gets sent to the 9th Circuit. Need I say more?” she said, referring to the California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Idaho.
What about Idaho’s representation in Congress?
At the federal level, Idaho’s newest member of Congress, Rep. Russ Fulcher, started working on anti-abortion legislation and issues as soon as he was sworn in at the beginning of the year.
Fulcher is already co-sponsoring six anti-abortion-related bills.
Shortly after being sworn in, Fulcher on Jan. 17 gave his first speech on the House floor.
“I’m often asked why I came to Congress, and I’ve asked myself that very same question,” he said. “It’s certainly not for the money, and it’s not for the notoriety or the scrutiny that comes with that. Ultimately for me, it comes down to the honorable purpose of supporting the divinely inspired principles behind our founding. Being a voice for those unavailable or unable to speak. There’s none more vulnerable or unable to speak than the unborn. And there is no more noble cause than protecting or promoting life.”