Lawmaker panel advances two anti-abortion bills to Senate

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A panel of Idaho lawmakers advanced two bills targeting abortion Wednesday.

The first bill attempts to dissuade women from having abortions if the fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome. The other bill would eliminate government funding from health care providers, schools or other entities if they provide abortions, refer someone to an abortion provider or even contract with someone affiliated with an abortion provider for non-abortion services.

The funding bill would also bar schools and other state agencies from dispensing emergency contraception, even though emergency contraception prevents pregnancy and doesn’t end an established pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The Senate State Affairs Committee sent the funding bill to the full Senate to be amended after lawmakers raised concerns that the ban on contracting with affiliates was overly broad.

The bill sponsored by Nampa Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug is intended to stop any taxpayer money from going to healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood, which offers cancer screening, reproductive health care and other health services in addition to abortion. A federal law called the Hyde Amendment already prohibits government dollars from being used to fund abortions. But Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers can receive government funding for non-abortion services like cancer screenings and treating patients for sexually transmitted infections.

Skaug’s bill would stop all government funding if an entity provides any abortion-related services, including letting patients know that abortion is an option to end their pregnancy. Hospitals are exempt from the restriction, but schools and universities are included.

Former state lawmaker Branden Durst testified in support of the bill, saying it is in line with the state GOP platform. “Any organization that performs abortion that would still like to receive taxpayer dollars can simply stop providing abortion,” Durst told the committee members.

But some lawmakers and members of the public expressed concerns that the provision barring taxpayer-funded entities from contracting with people “affiliated” with abortion providers was too vague.

Mistie Tolman, the state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, noted that the affiliation language could prevent her from using city garbage or sewer services at her home, because she works for an abortion provider and the trash and sewer use agreements amount to contracts with a government agency. Sen. Grant Burgoyne, a Democrat from Boise, also said it could bar the state from paying Tolman’s salary if she were to ever be elected to public office.

Skaug said similar laws in other states have been upheld in state and federal courts, and that the affiliate language was meant to target organizations that share business interests and resources. He noted the legislation would also bar schools from counseling students about abortion, with violations punishable by a misdemeanor.

“We have to have the hammer of the misdemeanor” because otherwise a worker at a university healthcare office might still tell a student where they could obtain an abortion, Skaug said.

The committee sent a second bill attempting to dissuade women whose fetuses have been diagnosed with Down syndrome from getting abortions to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Andrus said it was intended to make sure women know about all the support services, treatment and care options that are available to families with children with Down syndrome to help them feel more confident in carrying the pregnancy to term.

Opponents pointed out that Andrus and other supporters failed to consult with disability rights groups and Down syndrome support organizations before introducing the legislation. Those groups — including the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities — don’t support the bill, in part because they said the information should be provided to women when the diagnosis is made, not after they have already decided to obtain an abortion.

Andrus acknowledged the issue but said changing the bill would have taken too much work.

“It was an idea that they have to provide this information at diagnosis,” he said. “It came late, and we didn’t see that as something that can be done this session.”

The state already mandates that women seeking abortions be given an information pamphlet covering a variety of abortion-related topics, and so it was easier to add the language then, Andrus said.