News Abortion

Idaho GOP Advances Copycat Bill Banning Fetal Tissue Donation

Nicole Knight Shine

The measure requires abortion providers to turn over fetal remains to the patient upon request and obligates the state to issue fetal death certificates in cases of miscarriage.

Idaho Republicans are backing a multipronged approach to outlaw fetal tissue donation after abortion procedures and prohibit state-supported universities from conducting research on tissue derived from the procedure.

The senate State Affairs Committee introduced the bill from state Sen. Cliff Bayer (R-Boise) on a party line vote. Republicans hold a majority in the committee and control both chambers of the Idaho legislature.

Idaho’s Planned Parenthood affiliates don’t conduct fetal tissue donation, said Hannah Brass Greer, Idaho legislative director of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii. “[N]o such practice exists” in the state, according to an Associated Press report.

Among its provisions, SB 1349 requires abortion providers to turn over fetal remains to the patient upon request and obligates the state to issue fetal death certificates in cases of miscarriage. Violators would face criminal penalties of up to five years in prison, $10,000 in fines, and a one-year license suspension.

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The anti-choice group Idaho Chooses Life proposed the bill, a copycat of the “Unborn Infants Dignity Act” by the national anti-choice legislation mill known as Americans United for Life (AUL). The Idaho GOP bill adds a new section to state law to declare: “It continues to be the public policy of the state of Idaho to promote live childbirth over abortion.”

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Ohio are advancing similar AUL-drafted measures, while Indiana and Arkansas legislators passed versions of the copycat bill last year.

David Ripley of Idaho Chooses Life, addressing Idaho lawmakers, referenced the widely discredited hidden camera footage from the anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The footage was edited to suggest Planned Parenthood broke the law by selling fetal tissue.

Republican legislators have worked in coordination with CMP officials since the summer to cut Planned Parenthood’s funding. Now, 12 states have cleared the health-care provider of allegations of wrongdoing, and CMP’s ringleaders face felony charges.

SB 1349 also would “[p]rohibit all Idaho institutions of higher education that receive public moneys from engaging in medical research using organs or tissue, including human embryonic stem cells, obtained from aborted infants.”

Brass Greer of Planned Parenthood said the bill would “place unnecessary restrictions on potentially life-saving research.”

“SB 1349 is clearly based on last year’s discredited and heavily biased videos targeting women who donated fetal tissue to medical research in other states,” Greer told Rewire in an emailed statement.

Planned Parenthood officials have said the organization operates fetal tissue donation programs in two statesCalifornia and Washington.

Two Democrats on the committee voted against the bill. State Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise) pointed out that SB 1349 requires changes to Idaho death certificate procedures and asked Ripley whether he had consulted with the state Bureau of Vital Statistics, as the Spokesman-Review reported. Ripley said he hadn’t.

State Sen. Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum) noted that current law permits adults to donate their organs, tissue, or remains after death.

The Republican-led committee last week introduced a bill requiring abortion providers to hand out a list of locations, compiled by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, where an abortion patient can get a free ultrasound. Opponents of the measure fear the locations will be mostly crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which are often staffed by anti-choice activists who deceive pregnant people about their options.

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

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Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.

News Law and Policy

Texas District Attorney Drops Felony Charges Against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver's license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston.

UPDATE, July 26, 2:47 p.m.: This piece has been updated to include a statement from Planned Parenthood.

On Tuesday, the Harris County District Attorney’s office in Texas dismissed the remaining criminal charges against anti-choice activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt related to their production of widely discredited, heavily edited videos alleging Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.

The criminal charges against the pair originally stemmed from Republican Texas lawmakers’ responses to the videos’ release. Attorney General Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick all called for the Harris County District attorney’s Office to begin a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast last August, after the release of one video that featured clinic staff in Houston talking about the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for life-saving scientific research.

A Texas grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood staff and declined to bring any criminal charges against the health-care provider. More than a dozen state and federal investigations have similarly turned up no evidence of lawbreaking by the reproductive health-care provider.

Instead, in January, the grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver’s license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to trying to entice a third party to unlawfully purchase human organs.

A Texas judge in June dismissed the misdemeanor charge against Daleiden on procedural grounds.

“This meritless and retaliatory prosecution should never have been brought,” said Daleiden’s attorney, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, in a statement following the announcement that the district attorneys office was dismissing the indictment. “Planned Parenthood did wrong here, not David Daleiden.”

“Planned Parenthood provides high-quality, compassionate health care and has been cleared of any wrongdoing time and again. [Daleiden] and other anti-abortion extremists, on the other hand, spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, and lying. When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up. They spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their anti-abortion agenda. The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” Melaney A. Linton, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement emailed to Rewire after publication.

The district attorney’s dismissal of the felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt happened just before a scheduled court hearing requested by their attorneys to argue the felony indictment should be dismissed.

Daleiden still faces three civil lawsuits elsewhere in the country related to the creation and release of the Planned Parenthood videos.