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ID Senate panel votes to introduce one abortion bill, reject another

Idaho Public Television screenshot
Sen. Scott Herndon explains an abortion bill to members of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday.

Both bills were proposed by new Bonner County Senator Scott Herndon.

A north Idaho senator went one for two in his bid to introduce new bills to further tighten the state’s strict new abortion law.

In one case, Sen. Scott Herndon (R-Sandpoint) proposed to remove two of the three exceptions allowed for abortion. Those are in cases where pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

"This legislation basically seeks to offer equal protection under the law to all children conceived," he said.

Herndon said it was interesting he was making the case on the holiday that celebrated Martin Luther King, Junior's birthday.

"He spent 13 years advancing the civil rights of people based on certain characteristics, and this does the same thing. It seeks to advance civil rights based on certain characteristics. Right now we do not have equal protection based on the alleged circumstances of conception," Herndon said.

The MLK comparison drew a protest from Sen. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise). She then asked Herndon about a hypothetical situation.

"Let's say a 13-year-old girl was raped by an uncle, a father, a brother. We would a force that girl to carry a pregnancy and have a child and not get an abortion. Is that what I'm hearing?" she asked.

"The state of Idaho is not forcing anyone to do anything in this legislation," Herndon answered.

Wintrow pressed on with the same hypothetical and Herndon elaborated.

"It sounds to me like using the word 'forced' is actually the problem in the terminology that we're discussing today," he said. "Some people could describe the situation that you're talking about as the opportunity to have a child in those terrible circumstances."

He mentioned knowing a woman in northwestern Montana who was twice raped and impregnated as a child by a stepfather. Herndon said the first time the girl was forced to undergo an abortion. The second time she carried the child to term. He said the father is now serving life in prison.

"That child that she actually had proved to be incredibly cathartic for her and a huge blessing in her life and is now an adult person," he said. "In her case she would actually say that she was forced to get an abortion in the first case and then she had the opportunity to have a daughter in the second case."

Herndon said his bill would tighten the law to take away the option of abortion in two of the three current allowable exceptions.

“Under the current law, there is no court process that has to happen. All a mother has to do is file a police report and claim that a rape occurred," he said. "Under this legislation, that availability, that exception, would be removed so that there is no legal process to get an abortion for any circumstance except the other conditions that the current law allows for, which is to save the life of the mother.”

Wintrow (D-Boise), who works with victims of sexual assault, objected.

“Until you have sat with survivor after survivor after survivor, to hear the trauma and the many shades of gray in their lives, it is very difficult for us to talk about this in such a sterile way. So I really wanted to encourage people to open their hearts and to really understand what victims go through," she said.

None of the committee members moved to print Herndon’s bill and give it further consideration.

He had better luck with a second abortion-related bill. That would protect doctors who worry they’ll prosecuted for performing abortions when they see women with ectopic pregnancies. Herndon says it comes down to whether a physician intends to terminate a live fetus. He says his bill would protect doctors who think the law puts them in a legally gray area.

“The embryo or fetus has already deceased, has already perished, is dead, and therefore, you would never, for that reason, come under the potential of being penalized under our criminal abortion law, in that case," he said.

The State Affairs Committee voted to print that bill.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.