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Idaho House OKs bill banning public funding for abortion providers


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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The Idaho House has passed a bill aimed at defunding abortion providers in Idaho.

“This bill strips any provider of abortion services of any state funding. This does not outlaw any abortions,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, told the House on Tuesday during debate of the bill.

Zollinger said his bill, HB 525, could reduce abortions in Idaho, though, because abortion providers “will choose to take the state funding rather than perform abortions. But if not, at least none of our state taxpayer dollars are going to fund abortion.”

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, argued that the bill does not do what Zollinger says it will do.

“Currently, Planned Parenthood does not take any state money. There are reimbursements from Medicaid that go to services such as cancer screenings, gynecological exams and other health services,” Wintrow said.

Zollinger claimed that even though this money is not directly going to abortion procedures, it goes into the same pool and gets commingled with other money.

“They don’t have a pooling of money. They track every dime and they make sure that is separate from the (abortion) service,” Wintrow said.

In a mostly party-line vote of 52-17, the House passed the bill, which now goes the Senate for consideration.

In addition to all 14 House Democrats, three Republicans — Reps. Heather Scott, Blanchard; Priscilla Giddings, White Bird; and Paul Shepherd, Riggins — voted against the bill, although for altogether different reasons — they think the bill doesn’t go far enough.

Scott said the bill has “good intentions” but it does not advance the “pro-life movement” because it does not completely outlaw abortions.

Abortion has been legal in all 50 states since the landmark Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Of Idaho’s 44 counties, only three — Ada and Twin Falls and Valley — have abortion providers. Planned Parenthood operates clinics in Boise, Meridian and Twin Falls, and a private doctor provides them in Boise and McCall.

In 2018, the most recent year available, Idaho reported 1,257 abortions, a decrease by 28 from 2017, according to an Idaho Department of Health and Welfare annual report.

Both federal and state law already prohibit public money being used for abortions, except when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. But medical providers who perform abortions can receive public money for other health care services they offer.

Idaho does not report which abortions were performed due to life endangerment, rape or incest.

In its legal review of Zollinger’s bill, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office found that the legislation would be “legally defensible” if it allowed exceptions for abortions performed to save the woman’s life or in cases of rape or incest, and it allowed an exception for any qualified Medicaid providers.

The legislation includes an exception for abortions to “immediately” save a pregnant woman’s life or to allow for abortions in cases of rape or incest, as long as it is so determined by a judge or reported to law enforcement.

“We are on very solid legal footing,” Zollinger told the House.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise. disagreed, saying the bill does not include the exception for qualified Medicaid providers.

“There is not that express exception in this bill. I challenge anybody to point it out,” Gannon told the House.

And because the bill conflicts with federal law, Gannon said, “it is not legally defensible.”