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Bill to defund abortion providers passes House committee

February 25, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A panel of Idaho lawmakers has passed a bill that would halt all public funding to any entities that advise women about their abortion options.

The bill, sponsored by Nampa Rep. Bruce Skaug and 15 other Republican lawmakers, passed the House State Affairs Committee on a 10-4 vote Thursday despite opposition from those on both sides of the abortion debate.

The bill would bar all public funding to any entity — including schools, public health departments and other health care providers — if anyone associated with the entity provides an abortion, assists someone in getting an abortion, or even counsels a patient that abortion is an option they could seek out. It allows exceptions for hospitals, cases where the mother’s life is in danger and cases involving Medicaid transactions, which are governed by federal law.

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A federal law called the Hyde Amendment already bans federal dollars from being used for abortion services, with small exceptions. Skaug’s bill would also stop public money going to other services like contraception or cancer screenings if the provider also offers abortion counseling.

During Thursday’s hearing on the bill, Skaug told committee members that he believed they would have to “answer in the afterlife” if they vote against the bill.

“Those who want to keep the funds flowing for abortion,” Skaug said, “how will you answer to those children that we don’t save?”

Some abortion opponents spoke out against the bill, contending that it didn’t go far enough because it allowed exceptions to the public funding ban.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said she would vote no because she believed the bill would codify the abortion exceptions into law. “It can’t do a little bit of good with a little bit of poison in it,” Scott said.

Planned Parenthood’s Idaho state director Mistie Tolman urged the lawmakers to vote against the bill, saying it would punish reproductive health care providers. She noted that Planned Parenthood provides comprehensive health care to patients, including screening for cancer, treating infections and providing contraceptive and family planning services.

“With our health care system stretched thin by a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis, patients are already struggling to access care,” she said.

Dr. Rachel Chisausky with Family Medicine Residency of Idaho said the bill goes against the professional duty that physicians have to their patients by attempting to prevent them from informing patients of their health care options. The American Osteopathic Association says explicitly that patients must be advised of all their treatment options, she said.

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She said it would also dramatically increase pressure on already overwhelmed health care providers during the pandemic.

“We do not have the capacity to take on the over 9,000 patients that are seen at Idaho’s Planned Parenthood clinics,” Chisausky said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion research and policy think tank, Nebraska is currently the only state that bars Title X funds from going to entities that counsel patients about abortion options or that refer people to abortion providers.