Idaho on Wednesday became the first state to enact legislation modeled after a Texas law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and allowing enforcement through civil lawsuits to avoid challenges in constitutional courts.
Republican Gov. Brad Little signed into law the measure that allows people who would have been family members to sue a doctor who performs an abortion after heart activity is detected in an embryo.
The law in the conservative state is expected to go into effect 30 days after signing. But legal challenges are expected.
Backers said it was Idaho’s best opportunity to severely restrict abortions in the state after years of trying. More recently, last year, the state passed a law banning six-week abortions, but it took a favorable federal court ruling in a similar case to take effect, and it didn’t happen.
Republicans have super majorities in both the House and the Senate. The measure passed the Senate 28-6 and the House 51-14 without any Democratic support. Three House Republicans voted against the measure.
Opponents call it unconstitutional and note that six weeks is before many women know they are pregnant.
Advanced technology can detect the first flutter of electrical activity in the cells of an embryo as early as six weeks. This beating is not a beating heart, it is heart activity that will eventually become a heart. An embryo is called a fetus after the eighth week of pregnancy, and the heart proper begins to form between the ninth and twelfth week of pregnancy.
Idaho law allows the father, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles of an ‘unborn child’ to each sue an abortion provider for a minimum of $20,000 in damages -interest in the four years following the abortion. Rapists cannot sue under the law, but relatives of a rapist can.
The law is modeled after a Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to remain in place until a legal challenge is decided on the merits. Texas law allows ordinary citizens to enforce the law in place of state officials who normally would. Texas law allows lawsuits against clinics, doctors and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion that is not permitted by law.
A number of other states are pursuing similar laws, including Tennessee, which introduced a Texas-style abortion bill on Tuesday.
“The vigilant aspect of this bill is absurd,” said Idaho Democratic Rep. Lauren Necochea. “Its impacts are cruel and it is patently unconstitutional.”
Republican Rep. Steven Harris, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement after the Monday, March 14 vote, “This bill ensures that Idahoans can uphold our values and do all that is in our power to prevent wanton destruction. of innocent human life.