BOISE – Idaho’s forced ultrasound bill was killed for good Tuesday, when a House committee chairman said he won’t allow a hearing on the bill and anti-abortion activists said they’re withdrawing it.
“The big problem that’s been identified is the mandatory ultrasound,” said House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona. He said that presents a significant enough legal problem that it could cause a federal court to toss out Idaho’s entire existing informed-consent law for abortion. “We certainly don’t want to do damage to that,” he said.
Loertscher suggested to advocates that they “make a run at this in a little bit different way” next year.
The bill, SB 1387, would have required any Idaho woman seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound; in some cases early in pregnancy, an invasive trans-vaginal procedure would have been needed to get the information required in the bill, including recording fetal heartbeat and gestational age. It passed the state Senate following emotional floor debate that temporarily thrust Idaho into the national spotlight, but it bogged down in the House.
“It wasn’t really requiring that, but certainly it could be read that way, the trans-vaginal and all that,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, a co-sponsor of the bill. “I think that the proponents just weren’t ready for the firestorm that it lit.”
The Idaho Legislature endured intense national scrutiny after the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, made comments about rape victims during the Senate debate on the measure; the bill made no exception for victims of rape or incest.
Barbieri, who is chairman of the board of a crisis pregnancy center in Coeur d’Alene, said that didn’t concern him. “My perspective is that it’s a life,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me how the baby was conceived.”
Winder, in his closing debate before the Senate passed the bill on a 23-12 vote, said, “Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”
The comments went viral and were the subject of national news reports, causing Winder to clarify later that he didn’t mean to suggest he didn’t trust rape victims.
Backers of the bill staged a live ultrasound demonstration last week in the state Capitol, in which abdominal ultrasounds were performed on six pregnant volunteers. This week, 150 supporters of the bill rallied on the Statehouse steps Monday afternoon, while hundreds came in the evening for a silent march around the Capitol opposing the measure.
Hannah Brass, Idaho legislative director for Planned Parenthood, called the bill’s demise “a victory for women in Idaho” and said, “Now the Legislature can return to spending the rest of the session focusing on the issues that matter most to Idahoans, such as jobs and education. Women, and men, in Idaho are watching and voting to ensure lawmakers know that this sort of mandate, which demeans and shames women, is not OK – now or ever.”
Jason Herring, president of Right to Life of Idaho, the main group pushing for the bill, said, “Due to misconceptions about SB 1387, the complexity of this issue and the lack of time left in the session, we have decided to pull SB 1387 to work on concerns with plans to bring it back next year.”
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, another co-sponsor of the bill, said, “I was disappointed that it isn’t going to move forward, but I also understand that that’s how things work around here sometimes. … What I was hoping that it would accomplish is that it would give the mother one more opportunity to see the baby before she made that decision. … I think the more information they have, the less likely they are to have an abortion.”
In the Senate vote, five of the six North Idaho Panhandle senators opposed the bill; among House members disavowing it this week was Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who said, “I was concerned about the trans-vaginal ultrasound. I don’t think I could’ve supported that bill in its current form.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician, called the bill “terrible medicine, terrible public policy and an assault on personal freedom.”
“And unfortunately,” he said, “that’s what this session is going to be known for.”