March 22, 2012 in Idaho

Idaho’s forced ultrasound bill may be dead

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Anti-abortion activist Brandi Swindell narrates for the audience as volunteers from Stanton Healthcare, a Boise crisis pregnancy center, conduct a live ultrasound demonstration on a woman who is 11 weeks pregnant with her sixth child in an Idaho Capitol hearing room.
(Full-size photo)

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 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 this morning at 7:45 a.m., came after an hourlong, closed-door House GOP caucus. Following the caucus, House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, couldn’t say whether the bill, SB 1387, was dead.

“We don’t know,” he said. “We haven’t made the decision on it.”

Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, applauded the bill’s setback, which came after the Senate approved the bill Monday on a 23-12 vote, with most North Idaho senators in the minority.

“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,” she said “… One lady said, ‘I found my voice again.’ ”

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said he sent an email Wednesday to 15 Republican women in his district about the bill; 12 responded, and only one supported the bill. “They felt this was not in the interest of either the party or women,” Hartgen said.

The bill has put Idaho lawmakers in the national spotlight, and many have been deluged with messages from constituents who are against the bill.

“I’m pretty much for right-to-life, but I have to represent my constituents,” Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, said. “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 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.

“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,” Swindell said.

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 three 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.”

At one point, Swindell 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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