Idaho on Wednesday became the first state to enact legislation modeled after a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers who perform the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy.
“I stand in solidarity with all Idahoans who seek to protect the lives of preborn babies,” Republican Gov. Brad Little wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, the president of the state Senate.
The bill, which Little signed into law Wednesday, allows family members of a “preborn child” to sue doctors who perform the procedure after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo for a minimum of $20,000, in addition to legal fees. Such lawsuits can be filed up to four years after an abortion is performed.
The law is set to take effect in 30 days, but court challenges are expected.
The U.S. Supreme Court let the Texas law, the most restrictive in the country, go into effect last year, allowing only a narrow challenge to proceed. The Texas Supreme Court ruled against abortion clinics on that issue this month, essentially allowing the law to remain in place.
The law in Idaho is narrower than the law in Texas, which allows any citizen, even those with no connection to a woman seeking an abortion or the provider, to file a lawsuit, with the possibility of being awarded $10,000 by a court.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled this month that state officials have no role in enforcing the law, thwarting a challenge by clinics. Many opponents of the law have maintained that it is unconstitutional.
Little referred to their concerns in his letter.
“While I support the pro-life policy in this legislation, I fear the novel civil enforcement mechanism will in short order be proven both unconstitutional and unwise," Little wrote. "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.
“None of the rights we treasure are off limits. How long before California, New York, and other states hostile to the First and Second Amendments use the same method to target our religious freedoms and right to bear arms?”
The Idaho House easily passed the measure in a 51-14 vote last week after the Senate passed the bill earlier in the month. Republicans hold majorities in both chambers.
State Rep. Lauren Necochea, a Democrat, said she was outraged by Little’s decision to sign the bill. “Cash awards for rapists’ relatives? That’s the extremism that has gripped the Idaho Republican Party and it’s taking our state over a cliff,” she wrote on Twitter.
While rapists are not permitted to launch legal battles under the law, their relatives could sue.
Republican legislators in several other states have also introduced measures modeled on the Texas law.
The GOP-controlled Oklahoma House voted this week to pass a near-total ban on abortions that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers. Florida's Republican-led Senate also passed a bill this month to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki criticized the law in a statement Wednesday, calling it a "devastating" attack on women’s rights.
“We knew that when Texas passed SB8, its extreme law that blatantly violates the constitutional right reaffirmed by Roe v. Wade, it would invite other states to follow,” she said. “The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to stand with women and support their right to make their own health care decisions, a constitutional right that Roe v. Wade reaffirmed nearly five decades ago."