BOISE, Idaho (AP) - An Idaho bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions in the state by banning them once fetal cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound has been approved by a panel of lawmakers.
If the legislation becomes law, Idaho would become the 12th state to attempt a so-called "fetal heartbeat" ban this year, though the other other bills are tied up in the courts.
Blaine Conzatti, executive director of the anti-abortion organization Family Policy Alliance of Idaho, told the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the bill was "crafted to be defensible if needed." In the past, the Idaho legislature has passed several laws aimed at banning or limiting abortion access, and many of them have been overturned by the federal courts.
"We are not saying that life begins with the heartbeat," Conzatti said. "We're simply saying that the heartbeat is a universally recognized indicator of life ... that unique and distinct person should be legally protected."
Embryonic cardiac activity can be detected using vaginal ultrasounds as early as 6 weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. Less-invasive abdominal ultrasounds can detect a heartbeat a few weeks later.
Several people testified in support of the bill, including Samantha Doty, the director of clinical services at Stanton Healthcare, an anti-abortion-focused clinic that provides some free healthcare services to pregnant women in hopes of persuading them to carry to term.
"Help protect preborn human life in the womb," Doty said.
Another woman testified against the bill, saying it would bar necessary healthcare.
Angela Housely told lawmakers that when she was 20 weeks pregnant, she learned her fetus - which had a heartbeat - was also anecephalic, a fatal birth defect in which an embryo or fetus is missing a major portion of its brain, skull and scalp. Housely said she, her husband and her doctor agreed that abortion was the right choice for her, but the legislation would bar women in similar situations from that option.
Others testified against the bill, saying it didn't go far enough because it would still allow abortions before cardiac activity is detected and in some cases of rape or in some medical emergencies, such as when the mother's life is at risk.
Under the legislation, women who are raped would be able to obtain an abortion only if they've reported the crime to police and provided a copy of the report to the healthcare provider performing the abortion. Research from the U.S. Department of Justice has found that as many as 80 percent of rapes go unreported for various reasons.
The bill would make providing an abortion to a woman whose embryo has a detectible heartbeat punishable by up to five years in prison, and would allow women who receive abortions to sue the abortion provider.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican from Huston, limited testimony on the bill because she said the committee meeting was running out of time. That prompted several organizations to complain, saying Lodge selectively chose people to testify that were most likely to oppose abortion.
"This was not a public hearing - it was a public echo chamber," ACLU of Idaho policy strategist Lauren Bramwell wrote in a prepared statement after the hearing. "The chair allowed testimony from numerous people affiliated with the same anti-choice clinic, but refused to hear tesimony from organizations including Add the Words, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU of Idaho."
Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman, the Idaho director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said physicians who oppose the bill, people advocating for pregnant patients and others were intentionally silenced.
The legislation now goes to the full Senate.