BOISE - In a tumultuous day at Idaho’s state Capitol on Wednesday, anti-abortion activists staged a live ultrasound demonstration in a Capitol hearing room, sign-waving protesters gathered outside and a hearing on legislation requiring Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound before they could have an abortion was abruptly canceled.
As the bill’s opponents celebrated, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, “We’re still looking for some more information on the bill before we proceed, if we do.”
The cancellation of the House committee hearing - which had been scheduled for Thursday at 7:45 a.m. - came after an hour-long, closed-door House GOP caucus. Asked if the bill, SB 1387, was dead, House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said, “We don’t know. We haven’t made the decision on it.”
Idaho lawmakers who’ve been in the national spotlight - and have been deluged with messages from their constituents against the bill - applauded the setback, which came after the Senate approved the bill Monday on a 23-12 vote. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, the measure’s lead sponsor, spoke about rape victims in his closing debate, who wouldn’t be exempted from the measure. in remarks that went viral nationwide and prompted an outpouring of sentiment against the bill.
Said Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, “I am so thrilled and excited to see a legion of women come together about things they care about, stand up together and make a difference. … One lady said, ‘I found my voice again.’”
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said he sent an email out Wednesday to 15 Republican women in his district about the bill, SB 1387; 12 responded, and only one supported the bill. “They felt this was not in the interest of either the party or women,” Hartgen said.
Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, said, “I’m pretty much for right-to-life, but I have to represent my constituents. I’ve heard from a lot of my constituents - they’re pretty emphatic about it. That’s who elects us.”
Anti-abortion activist Brandi Swindell conducted the live ultrasound demonstration in the Statehouse over the noon hour with the enthusiastic air of a lively state fair product-demo host. “Isn’t this fun? Who doesn’t love seeing an ultrasound image of a baby?” she asked, adding, “Remember, this is first trimester, so the baby is tiny, tiny, tiny.”
A bamboo partition hung with a banner saying, “Voices from the Womb” and “Knowledge is power,” was set up to screen the table where six pregnant volunteers from Swindell’s crisis pregnancy center, Stanton Healthcare, took turns lying down for ultrasounds that were projected onto large screens.
Though all 105 lawmakers, their family members and staff were invited to the demonstration, only half a dozen came, most of them just briefly. Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, popped in for about 3 minutes before heading off to the House. Asked what he thought, he said he’d seen ultrasounds of both his children before, but said, “It’s neat.”
Swindell declared, “This is just simply giving women access to medical information that every woman deserves, every woman deserves this. … Women deserve access to medically accurate information.”
A woman in the audience called out, “I have access already, Brandi.” Swindell then admonished the audience, which consisted mostly of onlookers, protesters and reporters. “I hear a lot of mocking and I hear a lot of laughing,” Swindell said. “I think it’s highly insensitive.”
The crowd quieted, but later, several began heckling Swindell and there was loud applause; volunteers and Idaho State Police officers escorted the hecklers out of the room.
Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she was still hopeful the bill would get a hearing, either Friday or sometime next week. “They’ve canceled the hearing, but that doesn’t mean the bill is dead,” Nuxoll said.
Follow this developing story at Eye on Boise.