It couldn't have been a hotter issue last year, prompting months of agonizing debate, turning a national spotlight on Idaho, helping change the state's political landscape and ultimately remaining unresolved.
But this year, abortion is persona non grata in the Idaho Legislature."There may be some wisdom in giving everyone a chance to just rest from this issue for a while," House Majority Leader Gary Montgomery said. "It might be best to just let it go this year."
Montgomery said he even decided against drafting the relatively benign legislation aimed at creating more alternatives to abortion that he talked about on the House floor in the closing hours of the 1990 session.
The Boise Republican was one of the primary House architects of last year's House Bill 625. What would have been the nation's most restrictive state abortion law passed the House 47-36 and the Senate 25-17 before being vetoed by Gov. Cecil Andrus on March 30, just 30 minutes after lawmakers adjourned for the year.
But the controversy did not die with the legislation. It dogged candidates on both sides throughout the primary and general election campaigns, and in the end shifted the Legislature's makeup enough to the pro-choice side to ensure no restrictive bills will have a chance of passing in 1991.
The House now is 44-40 for legislation as restrictive as House Bill 625, which would have banned abortion except in cases of rape if reported within seven days, incest with victims under 18, severe fetal deformity or threat to the physical health of the mother.
But the Senate is 24-18 pro-choice, thanks in part to two Ada County Democrats, both women, defeating freshman Sen. Roger Madsen and Senate Majority Leader Rod Beck.
Madsen, a Boise lawyer, was House Bill 625's primary Senate sponsor, and Beck was one of the measure's most ardent supporters.
"I think the message is quite clear, that while a majority of Idahoans are pro-life in their personal views, they do not want to see government regulation in this area," Montgomery said. "They want that to be left as a private matter."
Idaho's 1990 abortion ordeal began six months before the legislative session with the U.S. Supreme Court's July 1989 ruling in a Missouri case. Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services gave states more authority to restrict abortions, but left the degree of added restriction largely undefined.
After failing in other states, the National Right to Life Committee deluged Idaho lawmakers with anti-abortion measures of varying restrictiveness, including an absolute ban. The House State Affairs Committee was designated as the Legislature's clearinghouse for abortion bills. The panel struggled with more than a dozen bills over a month of meetings and unprecedented public hearings outside the Capitol. Members became lightning rods for the views of advocates on both sides.
Even Right to Life of Idaho has said it expects a year of regrouping and grassroots voter education.
Either way, lawmakers burned by the issue last year are wary of striking another match.