April 5, 2011 / 9:14 PM / in 8 years

Idaho lawmakers vote to ban abortion after 20 weeks

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - The Idaho legislature on Tuesday gave final approval to a measure that would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and subject abortion providers to criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.

The Senate-backed bill cleared the House in a 54-14 vote and now heads to Governor Butch Otter, who is expected to sign it.

The legislation is linked to disputed medical research suggesting the unborn feel pain at 20 weeks and is modeled on a 2010 Nebraska law that has yet to face a legal challenge.

The bill is similar to one recently approved by the Kansas legislature and to measures proposed by lawmakers in more than a dozen other states.

The ban is part a broader campaign by the National Right to Life Committee to tighten restrictions on abortion after sweeping conservative gains in state elections last year.

The campaign has found favor in states such as Idaho, Kansas and North Dakota, which have Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.

“We want to use legislation in as many ways as possible to talk about the humanity of the unborn child,” Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for National Right to Life, told Reuters in a recent interview.

Supporters of abortion rights say the measures are attacks on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion but allowed states to ban it after viability. And they accuse conservatives of misusing their elected positions to impose a personal agenda.

“Idaho legislators have clearly abandoned their promise to focus on jobs and the economy to advance a ban that directly interferes in a woman’s relationship with her doctor,” Nancy Keegan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a lobbying group, said in a statement.

The Idaho bill would make it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of gestation unless it could be proved the pregnancy endangered the woman’s life.

It would open violators to lawsuits by the woman and the unborn’s father and allow spouses, relatives and others to file legal injunctions against physicians who break the ban.

Sponsors said the restriction is needed in Idaho even though state figures show less than 1 percent of abortions in 2009 involved pregnancies at 20 weeks.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune

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