BOISE, Ida. — Gov. Cecil Andrus, confronted with calls, letters and petitions from thousands opposed to Idaho's abortion bill, on Friday vetoed what would have been the nation's most restrictive state abortion law.
The veto ended the hopes of anti-abortion groups who wanted to use an Idaho law to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court's commitment to legalized abortion, embodied in its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.
Andrus, an anti-abortion governor who said he agonized over provisions of the legislation, explained his decision by saying the bill does not provide a woman and her family any flexibility in cases of rape and incest.
"The bill is drawn so narrowly that it would punitively and without compassion further harm an Idaho woman who may find herself in the horrible, unthinkable position of confronting a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest," he said in a written statement read at a 5 p.m. news conference.
The veto effectively killed the bill, since state legislators had conceded that they did not have enough votes to gain the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. The bill had cleared the state House of Representatives on a 47-36 vote and was passed by the Senate on a 25-17 vote. In addition, the Legislature adjourned its session at 4:32 p.m. Friday and can be called back only by the governor.
Andrus, who is running for an unprecedented fourth term, said he had consulted with legal scholars of both political parties who said there was not the "remotest chance" of the Supreme Court's upholding such a law.
He also said the financial burden for the state to defend the bill in court would have been excessive, with estimates running as high as $1.5 million.
"The medical community advised us that they doubt there is any medical doctor who could perform any abortion in this state if the bill became law because of the legal liability restrictions putting the burden on them," Andrus said.
The bill called for outlawing abortion except in cases of non-statutory rape reported within seven days, incest if the victim is under 18, severe fetal deformity or a threat to the life or health of the woman.
The governor had said Thursday he was concerned that other women who have been raped, victimized by incest or faced a threat to their own lives might not be able to obtain a justified abortion.
On Friday, Andrus said many of his own reservations about the bill, which would have banned more than 90% of the 1,500 abortions performed in Idaho each year, were known to lawmakers as they considered it.
"But all were shunted aside in the frenzy to pass a bill that, by the sponsors' own admission, was conceived outside of our state for the sole purpose of getting this issue back before the Supreme Court," he said.
"I believe, and I am confident the people of Idaho believe, that we can make our own judgments on this terribly important issue without outside pressure and outside influence or threats," Andrus said.
The governor has repeatedly reaffirmed his opposition to abortion except in cases of rape, incest and to save the woman's life.
Before the veto was announced, Andrus remained closeted in his inner office as staff members handled a tide of phone messages, which were running 2 to 1 for a veto of the bill.
"There are only so many lines," receptionist Jean Jewell said. "We couldn't handle any more."
Since the bill banning abortion as a method of birth control cleared its first major legislative hurdle in the House three weeks ago, more than 21,000 telephone calls, letters and petitions came into the office.
Since Wednesday morning, the staff had begun counting out-of-state calls separately; they were running about three times greater than those from Idahoans.
Pro-abortion groups, led by the National Organization for Women, had called for a boycott of Idaho products if Andrus signed the measure. The focus of the boycott would have been Idaho's potato crop, a mainstay of the state's economy.
In response, anti-abortion activists began mailing potatoes to NOW.