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Idaho Senate passes so-called ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion ban

April 6, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Senate passed a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions in the state by banning them once fetal cardiac activity can be detected.

The so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill passed Tuesday 28-7 on a party-line vote.

Bill sponsor Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican from Huston, said a fetal heartbeat is a sign that life exists and that she believes the state has a compelling interest in protecting that life. She also said the bill could help families who are hoping to adopt children — presumably because some women, unable to obtain abortions, might choose to carry to term and then give the infants to adoptive families.

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“A woman can give birth and continue her life goals,” she said. “It is a humane act to protect those who are unable to speak for themselves.”

The legislation makes providing an abortion to a woman whose embryo has detectible cardiac activity punishable by up to five years in prison, and it would allow the woman who receives the abortion to sue the abortion provider.

Cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks using an invasive vaginal ultrasound — before many women discover they are pregnant. The bill contains exceptions for women whose lives are at risk because of a medical emergency, or women who have become pregnant by rape or incest, but only if they report the crime to law enforcement and give a copy of the report to the health care provider performing the abortion.

The bill also contains a “trigger provision” that means it wouldn’t go into effect unless a federal appellate court somewhere in the country upholds similar legislation from another state. Similar bills have been passed in several other states, and some are already being litigated. Last month, a federal court temporarily blocked a fetal heartbeat bill in South Carolina.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise, said the exception for rape and incest would likely be impossible for many women to meet, because Idaho law protects law enforcement reports from active investigations from being released. Many rape victims don’t want to report the crimes to law enforcement right away, and even if they do, the reports are often sealed for three months or more. Forcing women to immediately report their rape and then fight to get a copy of the report quickly enough for any abortion would deeply compound the trauma they have already experienced, she said.

“It’s really quite difficult to get a police report during an active investigation, and police records are exempt from disclosure,” Wintrow said. “I implore you, regardless of all the other things, that this bill cannot go forward for that reason ... support a human life that is as valuable as any other.”

Research from the U.S. Department of Justice has found that as many as 80 percent of rapes go unreported for various reasons.

The legislation now goes to the House.