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Tuesday, April 7, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Free ultrasound bill clears Senate committee on party-line vote

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted along party lines this morning to pass HB 516, legislation pushed by Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, to require women seeking abortions to be provided with a state-compiled list of providers who will give them free ultrasounds, and told they have a right to a free ultrasound and to hear a fetal heart monitor.

After a professional sonographer testified to the committee that it is unsafe and potentially damaging to the fetus to use equipment that produces an audible fetal heartbeat sound during the first trimester of pregnancy – when 90 percent of abortions occur – Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, moved to send the bill to the Senate’s amending order to remove five references in the bill to a patient’s “right to … hear the heart tone monitoring of her unborn child.” Buckner-Webb also proposed amendments to the bill to require that only medically accurate information be given and that a licensed health-care provider be on the premises when the free ultrasound is administered. Her motion, seconded by Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, failed, 2-5, with just the two Democrats supporting it.

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill’s motion to pass the bill as-is then passed, 5-2; Sens. Hill, Siddoway, Lakey, Lodge and McKenzie voted in favor of it.

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said, “I think perhaps the language could use a little bit of tightening, but would prefer to approach that next year.”

Committee Chairman Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said after the meeting that he wouldn’t have opposed removing “hear” once the committee understood that the heartbeat is typically observed visually, rather than heard audibly. But he said, “Sen. Davis always cautions us about sending abortion bills to the amending order. I think we can interpret ‘hear’ as to identify whether or not there is a heartbeat, without mandating whether the process is sound wave or the visual.”

HB 516 is one of three bills pushed by anti-abortion groups that are pending this year; the House-passed measure now moves to the full Senate. During Friday’s hearing, the committee also voted to introduce a new version of another one of those, the “Idaho Unborn Infants Dignity Act” from the group “Idaho Chooses Life,” which seeks to ban fetal tissue from being donated after an abortion, either for organ donations or medical research. The original version of that bill, SB 1349, was “so broadly worded” that it could be unconstitutional, McKenzie said.

The third bill, SB 1386 from Nate and Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, seeks to ban the most common second-trimester abortion procedure on grounds that it “dismembers” a fetus; it hasn’t yet had a committee hearing. The procedure is commonly known as “dilation and evacuation,” or D&E. The Senate State Affairs Committee agreed March 4 to introduce the bill despite concerns about its constitutionality.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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