Senate Bill 1309: Idaho’s Texas-style abortion ban that bans abortion after 6 weeks and creates bounty system targeting abortion providers

students from the university of texas rallied at the capital to protest the nation's strictest abortion law, taken sept 1, 2021
Photo courtesy of Bill Bob Daemmerich

The Idaho Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 1309, a Texas-style abortion bill that restricts access to abortion after six weeks and allows family members to sue abortion providers, on Thursday, March 3, along party lines. 

Both the main bill and a trailer bill meant to correct problems raised by medical providers now heads to the House of Representatives before reaching the Governor’s desk. Advocates for reproductive rights gathered outside of the State Capitol Monday, Feb. 28 to oppose SB 1309.

“I’m here to fight the ban on my body. I’ve also had an abortion myself so it’s important for me to come out here, say my story and be heard … It’s our choice, autonomy of our own bodies and being able to let people safely make that decision is important,” said Lex, a senior at Boise State majoring in urban studies and community development, who asked for only her first name to be used to protect her privacy.

The coalition of protestors was made up of Planned Parenthood, ACLU Idaho, Legal Voice, The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, Add the Words and six politicians including Rep. Ilana Rubel (D) and Sen. Melissa Wintrow (D).

students from the university of texas rallied at the capital to protest the nation's strictest abortion law, taken sept 1, 2021
[Students from the University of Texas rallied at the Texas Capitol to protest the nation’s strictest abortion law on Sept. 1, 2021.]
Photo courtesy of Bill Bob Daemmerich

Lawmakers and advocates of Senate Bill 1309 have championed the bill as a “fetal heartbeat” bill, which they say is detected around six weeks of pregnancy. 

However, medical professionals take issue with the term “fetal heartbeat.”

“The term ‘fetal heartbeat’ is pretty misleading,” Dr. Jennifer Kerns told NPR. Kerns is an OB-GYN and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco. 

“What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity. In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart.” 

Opponents of the bill voiced concerns that it effectively bans abortion access after six weeks of pregnancy, which is similar to a piece of legislation passed last year. The difference with this bill is that it would provide financial incentive for individuals to spy on their pregnant family members.

“We’re really concerned that they’re turning family members into vigilantes and asking them to monitor their pregnant relatives with a financial reward. They sue a medical provider, an abortion provider, they’re going to get a minimum of $20,000 in damage,” said Chelsea Gaona Lincoln, the Idaho programs manager of Legal Voice. “That’s pretty terrifying. Family members that may be abusive, you may not even be in contact with them — this gives a legally protected mechanism for abusers.”

Gaona Lincoln also said the bill’s provisions for rape and incest are effectively useless since victims would be required to present their abortion provider with a police report before the six-week mark. Meanwhile, victims have to wait for the investigation to close before obtaining a police report.

The Idaho attorney general’s office confirmed some of the legal concerns in an opinion solicited by Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D)

“Senate Bill 1309 would likely be found to violate recognized constitutional rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s current understanding of the U.S. Constitution … S.B. 1309 could be found to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane wrote. 

“I think it’s one of the worst bills I’ve ever seen,” Wintrow said. “It’s unconscionable, it’s abusive, it treats women as if we don’t even have a brain in our body to control our own lives. It treats us as vessels that carry a pregnancy beyond where we don’t want to. It’s outrageous. Especially the avenue it builds for abusers, to create a bounty system for relatives to go after somebody. That opens the door for abuse.”

A health care worker attending the protest expressed their frustration in regards to how abortion access is not widely recognized as a health care issue and how laws outlawing abortion can have dangerous consequences.

“I’m a postpartum nurse. Abortion is an essenital health service and needs to be safe, legal and accessible,” said Vanessa R., who graduated from Boise State in 2014 and obtained a master’s degree in nursing from Columbia University in 2021. Vannesa also asked that only her first name and last initial be used.

“If politicians really cared about life they would care about our environment, regulate guns, provide better public education and health care,” Vannesa said. “But this bill isn’t about life. It is about control.”

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