Idaho’s future was very much on display last month.
There in a House State Affairs Committee hearing room, you saw a collision between the traditional anti-abortion rights hardliners — who at least have some limits — and the so-called abolitionists — who have none.
Representing the status quo was Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls. His bill is the latest in a long line of efforts to place impediments in the path of Idaho women and their legal rights.
It’s a strategy required by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions. In essence, anti-abortion rights advocates in the Legislature can’t outlaw the procedure outright, so they attempt to create as many obstructions as the courts will allow.
That’s why you’ve seen laws requiring women to wait before getting an abortion or more restrictions placed on later-term abortions.
Mirroring the latest phase is the assault on the finances of abortion providers. Although the Hyde Amendment for years stopped Medicaid dollars from paying for most abortions — with exceptions for those to spare the life of the mother, as well as cases of rape and incest — there is now a movement to strip providers of public funds for the other services they provide.
For instance, Planned Parenthood did not spend public dollars on abortions, but it received federal family planning funds. Then the Trump administration ratcheted up restrictions on whether, for instance, Planned Parenthood could discuss a pregnant woman’s options. Rather than submit, Planned Parenthood eschewed the federal support.
Zollinger builds on that by targeting public funds, such as Medicaid, that Idaho health care providers receive for any number of services.
By many measures, holding patient care hostage in this way is extreme. Moreover, there are collateral victims. It targets not only Planned Parenthood, but any hospital or doctor who may perform abortions in limited circumstances. Perhaps the woman suffers from high blood pressure. The pregnancy is ectopic. It’s possible carrying the pregnancy to term carries the risk of kidney failure. Or it simply may come down to a private decision between a patient and the doctor.
Zollinger wants to force those health care providers to choose: Abandon their patients or forfeit public dollars they receive for other services.
The measure cleared the House Tuesday 52-to-17.
Zollinger is courting a judicial rebuke, his critics say. But at least he’s in the mainstream of the anti-abortion rights mantra: Women are victims. Abortions in the cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life would be tolerated.
Not good enough, said some of the crowd that showed up at the House State Affairs Committee hearing to testify against Zollinger’s bill. To them, nothing less than Rep. Heather Scott’s bill will do. Not only does Scott’s bill prosecute women as well as doctors, it makes no exception for victims of rape and incest. As far as protecting the life of the mother, Scott’s bill is confusing. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.
Suddenly the people who had been at home among Idaho’s anti-abortion rights fanatics seemed to be recast as a bunch of centrists while the purists demanded all abortions be banned, women be prosecuted as criminals, with no exceptions.
A man identified as Scott Watson called Zollinger’s bill “fatally flawed, literally” because allowing abortions in the case of rape or incest was punishing children for “the sins of their fathers.”
While Scott’s bill languishes in the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Judiciary Chairman Todd Lakey and House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Megan Blanksma have unveiled another approach. It maintains the rape and incest exceptions — provided the woman makes a report to police or child protective services. Requiring a victim of violent crime to make a formal report renders the exceptions meaningless.
As long as Roe remains the law of the land, all of this is an exercise in the hypothetical. If you support abortion rights, you can sleep soundly at night, confident these measures can’t be enforced.
That is unless a Supreme Court — currently being filled by President Donald Trump’s appointees — reverses Roe. At that point, the Scott and Lakey-Blanksma bills are no longer mere rhetorical rallying cries.
They have every potential of becoming law within Idaho. In fact, the Lakey-Blanksma bill is a “trigger bill,” activated by any court reversal of Roe.
Consider this your glimpse into Idaho’s post-Roe world, where the debate will feature people such as Zollinger on one side and others such as Scott on the other.
No longer will the Supreme Court have the last word about what happens to Idaho women of child-bearing years.
That decision will belong to the Legislature. — M.T.