Idaho House to Consider Abortion Law Repeals

BOISE, Idaho — A proposal to reverse two anti-abortion laws in Idaho was headed to the House floor for debate after being approved at the committee level by lawmakers hesitant to loosen the state’s tough anti-abortion stance.

Earlier this year, a federal judge agreed to give the Idaho Legislature time to repeal two laws passed in 2015 banning women from receiving abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.

The judge said that he will rule those laws as unconstitutional and unenforceable if lawmakers don’t take them off the books this session. Allowing that ruling to go into place would create possible case precedence for organizations to use in future court cases against telemedicine abortion bans.

Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Statehouse aren’t excited about the situation the court has put them in. Several GOP members opposed advancing the repeal measure during a legislative hearing on March 6, while others teared up before reluctantly agreeing in a 12-3 vote to send the proposal to the House floor.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who voted against HB 250 when it passed the House State Affairs Committee, called the proposal the “real war on women” in a statement.

“Make no mistake, I believe that I speak for the pro-life community in saying that telemedicine abortion is a terrible tragedy for Idaho,” said David Ripley, director of the anti-abortion organization Idaho Chooses Life. “It is my sad duty, Mr. Chairman, to ask this committee to support house bill 250 in order to preserve our options going forward.”

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands sued the state last year, arguing the bans puts unnecessary burdens on women seeking safe abortions.

The organization’s lawsuit was directed at two laws.

The first requires doctors to be present when administering pregnancy-ending pills rather than do so via telemedicine. The practice allows doctors to consult with patients or review medical records remotely, using a computer or telephone connection. While it’s become a popular method for treating patients, particularly in rural areas, the practice of dispensing abortion-inducing medication with telemedicine is still a new concept.

The second law, sponsored by former House Minority Leader John Rusche, a Democrat from Lewiston, outlined acceptable telemedicine practices in Idaho but included a strict one-line sentence banning doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs through remotely. The law allows other forms of medical procedures without a doctor’s presence.

This year’s repeal effort marks one of the few times when Idaho lawmakers have been asked to reverse legislation deemed unconstitutional-backed by a Democrat.

“These laws should have never been passed in the first place. These types of extreme bills are part of a coordinated effort to restrict women’s health care in the state of Idaho,” said Mistie Tolman, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii.

She added: “As of today, the Idaho legislature is taking steps in the right direction. Women in Idaho deserve the right to have access to the safest, highest quality health care – these misguided laws do just the opposite by creating unnecessary hurdles to safe and legal abortion.”

Currently, 18 other states require that abortion-inducing medication must be given in person, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research center that supports abortion rights. Thirty-seven states including Idaho require licensed physicians to be the only ones to give abortion medication.

However, Planned Parenthood won a similar lawsuit in 2015 when the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a restriction that would have prevented doctors from administering medication abortions, saying the rule would have placed an unconstitutional burden on women by requiring a doctor’s physical presence in the room.