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Idaho legislator says trauma prevents pregnancy in rape, incest victims

Idaho Rep. Pete Nielsen

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers ratcheted up the abortion debate Thursday, as one state representative said he believes rape and incest are unlikely to result in pregnancy, and a party-line vote backed one of two bills championed this year by anti-abortion groups.

The bill in question would require women seeking abortions to be given a list of providers of free ultrasounds, and to be told they have a right to such a procedure and to hear a fetal heart monitor.

Backers said they believe such actions would make women more likely to decide against abortion. The measure makes no exception for victims of rape or incest.

During the hearing Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said, “Now, I’m of the understanding that in many cases of rape it does not involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the incident. That may be true with incest a little bit.”

His comment was directed to Angela Dwyer of Stanton Healthcare, a crisis pregnancy center, who was testifying in support of the bill. Dwyer told Nielsen that her center had treated two young rape victims and that one chose to keep her baby while the other offered her baby for adoption.

Nielsen stood by his remarks after the hearing, saying pregnancy “doesn’t happen as often as it does with consensual sex, because of the trauma involved.”

Asked how he knew that, he said, “That’s information that I’ve had through the years. Whether it’s totally accurate or not, I don’t know.”

He added, “I read a lot of information. I have read it several times. … Being a father of five girls, I’ve explored this a lot.”

The scientific consensus on the issue is that rape is as likely to result in pregnancy as consensual sex, and some studies suggest the rate of pregnancy is higher in rape. A 2003 study that appeared in the scientific journal “Human Nature,” for instance, found that the rate of pregnancy from rape exceeded the rate of pregnancy from consensual sex by a “sizable margin.”

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who has worked with victims of sexual violence, said legislators are ignoring science and making decisions based on conjecture.

“What that kind of a statement does to somebody who’s been victimized violently – it’s ignorant, it’s insensitive,” she said.

Hannah Brass Greer, legislative director for Planned Parenthood in Idaho, said statements from politicians like Nielsen point blame at rape and incest victims who become pregnant, suggesting they must have consented to the attacks.

“That’s obviously, medically, scientifically inaccurate. That type of comment we’ve heard before, when politics get in the way of medical care,” she said. “It’s harmful on so many levels.”

Numerous people spoke out for or against the ultrasound bill in a hearing that stretched for two and a half hours.

Kerry Uhlenkott, legislative coordinator of Right to Life of Idaho, told the committee that Idaho’s crisis pregnancy centers report that “90 percent of their clients choose life for their babies after viewing the ultrasound.”

Opponents said the bill set no standards for the providers of the free ultrasounds, potentially exposing the state to liability for advertising free services that aren’t up to par.

“My neighbor could even be listed, and they could have an ultrasound machine in their house,” said Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said he’s a board member of Open Arms Pregnancy Care Center in North Idaho and it was required to comply with existing laws before offering medical procedures like ultrasounds.

“The law is already in place,” he said. “When that ultrasound shows a heartbeat, it is very difficult for an expectant mother to assume that that is not a separate life.”

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, lead sponsor of the bill, said the bill shows “true trust in women.”

“To deny women this information is paternalistic,” he said.

Nielson said that abortion rights supporters are the ones ignoring science.

“Scientific, not just religious, teachings proves beyond a doubt that the fetus is a live, living individual,” he said.

He noted that Idaho was the fourth state to give women the vote.

“That’s how much we think of our women,” he said. “We love them and we want to take care of them.”

Wintrow said the state should not require that “advertising” be provided when a patient goes to their licensed health care provider.

“I have no problem if a group wants to organize and provide free health care services,” she said. “That’s within everybody’s rights.”

The bill cleared the House State Affairs Committee on a party-line vote with only the panel’s four minority Democrats objecting; it now moves to the full House for a vote.

The other bill being pushed this session by anti-abortion groups would ban fetal tissue from being donated after an abortion either for organ donations or medical research. The measure, sponsored by the group Idaho Chooses Life, has 18 legislative co-sponsors, all Republicans. It’s awaiting a hearing in a Senate committee.