White House condemns ‘devastating’ Idaho law banning abortion at six weeks of pregnancy

·3 min read

Idaho Governor Brad Little has signed a bill into law banning abortion at six weeks of pregancy, before most women know they are pregnant.

The law – the first in the nation to mirror a restrictive Texas law that bans most abortions in the state – also allows family members of what it calls “a preborn child” to pursue legal action against abortion providers, with a reward of at least $20,000 plus legal fees, in lawsuits that can be filed up to four years after an abortion.

Unlike the Texas bill, the Idaho measure does include an exception for pregnancies as the result of rape or incest – but only if the woman files a police report and provides it to a physician.

If they fail to do so before an abortion, a rapist’s family members could sue and collect damages, according to the text of the bill and its legislative sponsor – what opponents argue will allow people to profit from “bounties” targeting women seeking medical care.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “this development is devastating for women in Idaho, as it will further impede women’s access to health care, especially those on low incomes and living in rural communities.”

Governor Little said in a statement that the “novel civil enforcement mechanism will in short order be proven both unconstitutional and unwise.”

“Deputizing private citizens to levy hefty monetary fines on the exercise of a disfavored but judicially recognized constitutional right for the purpose of evading court review undermines our constitutional form of government and weakens our collective liberties,” the governor said on 23 March.

He also expressed concern over the law’s “unintended consequences” for sexual assault survivors.

“Ultimately this legislation risks retraumatizing victims by affording monetary incentives to wrongdoers and family members of rapists,” he wrote.

The law is set to take effect in 30 days.

In a statement that notably does not include the word “abortion”, Ms Psaki said the Texas law and copycat legislation it inspired “has had profoundly negative effects – with women forced to travel hundreds of miles to access care, and clinics in neighboring states seeing a significant increase in demand since the law went into effect.”

Last month, Planned Parenthood reported that Oklahoma abortion providers saw a 2,500 per cent increase in abortion patients with Texas addresses compared to the previous year.

“This is unacceptable, which is why [President Joe Biden] directed a whole of government response to protect women’s rights that are currently under attack,” Ms Psaki said.

Republican officials across the US, emboldened by the US Supreme Court’s anticipated ruling in a case that could determine the fate of healthcare protections for women, have filed dozens of bills or have approved laws in place that could immediately or quickly ban abortion in more than 20 states if the decades-old precedent from Roe v Wade is overturned.

Following December’s opening arguments in a Mississippi case involving a state law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks, the high court’s six conservative justices signalled readiness to uphold the law, marking the biggest direct challenge to the constitutional right to abortion care.

The Supreme Court has also declined to intervene to stop the Texas law.

The Biden administration has called on Congress to codify protections in the Roe ruling in an effort “to shut down these radical steps,” Ms Psaki said.