BOISE – Prompting shouts of protest, a Republican-backed measure requiring pre-abortion ultrasounds in Idaho cleared a key Senate committee Wednesday on a party-line vote.
The 7-2 vote followed two hours of emotional testimony, mostly in opposition to the proposal, and came as lawmakers in a growing number of states confront similar politically charged debates. Security guards at the Idaho Capitol quickly moved to stand in front of the senators as they gathered their computers and papers to leave the committee hearing in front of a crowd of 250; the bill now moves to the full Senate for a floor vote.
Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, moved to kill the bill, but Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, urged passage.
“I do appreciate the testimony today,” Hill said, singling out that of a Boise physician who had just spoken against the bill. “She said don’t let your concern for the unborn influence your decision. That’s the major factor influencing my decision.”
Dr. Heather Hammerstedt told the senators the legislature “is mandating that a specific portion of its population undergo a medical procedure. … The standard of care should be determined by those providing that care.”
She compared the bill to requiring doctors to perform a spinal tap on every person with a headache or requiring all children to be vaccinated, even if their parents object. “Do not allow your real concern for the unborn to intervene in the rights of the patient or of the medical profession,” she said.
Sue Philley, of Boise, presented a petition with 4,000 signatures against the pre-abortion ultrasound bill. “Health care decisions are best made by patients and their medical providers, not politicians,” she told the senators. “This government intrusion into private lives makes a mockery of the expressed Republican goal of less government.” Her statement was immediately greeted by loud applause. After it died down, Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, admonished the crowd to not make outbursts.
Malepeai said, “This is an emotional issue, as it should be. … It seems to me that when I go to a doctor, the door is closed and I have a personal conversation about my health. It’s very, very private.”
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, called the bill “unconscionable.” But she and Malepeai cast the only two votes against the bill.
Susan Young, director of the Life Choices Pregnancy Center in Sandpoint, supported the bill and told the committee, “They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This bill would require a woman seeking an abortion to have a real picture, with sound, of the fetus she is seeking to have removed from her body.”
Betsy McBride of the League of Women Voters, said, “If an ultrasound procedure is not medically necessary, the Legislature should not require that a doctor or an ultrasound technologist perform such a procedure against the will of the patient. … There is no legitimate reason to endorse this bill, which is an assault on Idaho women’s right to privacy.”
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the bill’s lead sponsor, said, “This was brought to me by Idaho Right to Life and a group of women who asked me to be the sponsor of this legislation. I do that proudly in that I do believe the state has an interest in protecting the life of the unborn. That’s the purpose here, at least for me.”
Opponents said it would require women to undergo invasive transvaginal ultrasounds, because those are the only procedures that yield information in early pregnancy that the bill requires to be recorded from the ultrasound. Winder said the original bill specifically mentioned the more invasive procedure, but he altered it to take that out and leave the choice of procedures up to the patient and physician.
Winder said, “Some people will feel this is an intrusion into the private lives and decisions of women. I understand that and I respect their point of view. I just see that there’s a higher, at least in my opinion, need to respect the life of the unborn and to respect the life of the developing child.”