Idaho’s Republican-controlled Legislature is backing away from a bill requiring women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound first, capping weeks of Capitol demonstrations, a live Senate ultrasound exhibition on pregnant women and threats against at least one lawmaker.
The legislation passed the Senate, but stalled in the state House after Rep. Tom Loertscher announced Tuesday he wouldn’t schedule a committee hearing.
Consequently, anti-abortion activists’ push to include Idaho among seven other states that require ultrasound procedures before an abortion will likely be put off until 2013.
Proponents, including Right to Life of Idaho, asked for a chance to change the bill Tuesday morning, but Loertscher, R-Bone, decided there wasn’t time left in this session to resolve concerns among the House’s majority Republicans that the bill allowed government to intrude too deeply into women’s private lives.
“They were still holding out some hope for amendments,” Loertscher said. “They agreed it’s probably so late, they should step back and make another run at this next year.”
Idaho is among eleven states that already require verbal counseling or written materials on abortion include information on ultrasound, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Supporters hoped adding a new mandate could help convince more women not to terminate their pregnancies.
Jason Herring, president of Right to Life of Idaho, said misconceptions about Idaho’s measure — and lack of time — ultimately worked against his group’s efforts to convince a majority of representatives to get behind the bill.
Among amendments under consideration were the addition of an explicit exemption for medical emergencies and clarification that an invasive vaginal ultrasound couldn’t be forced on unwilling women, as some lawmakers feared could have been required.
Still, Herring said exceptions for rape or incest victims weren’t among concessions his group would have supported.
“We don’t believe women need less information and less care when they are victims of crime. They need more care,” Herring said, adding his group would be back in 2013. “The debate is far from over.”
If an ultrasound bill does return, the public outcry will be the same, predicted Monica Hopkins, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.
“There’s a fierce sense of independence here,” Hopkins said. “Politicians and legislators saw this as government intrusion and had a problem with mandating something that was a clear overreach and didn’t adhere to the constitutional principles of equality and liberty.”
Throughout the debate, the passion from both sides was apparent.
A live ultrasound exhibition in the Capitol last week, billed as “Voices from the Womb,” featured six women who underwent abdominal ultrasounds before an audience of more than 150 people.
One opponent after another was escorted from the room by Idaho State Police troopers after making their objections to the bill heard.
And the 100-year-old Statehouse’s front steps became a battle theater for sign- and American flag-carrying carrying advocates, including demonstrations from both sides that stretched into Monday evening.
Heading into an election year, some Republicans got cold feet after hearing from women in their districts that the bill was a bad idea. Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, described how he sent out 15 letters to women polling them on the bill. Twelve replied, and only one supported the measure.
“They (Republicans) recognized that when you kick the bee hive, bees come out,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, calling the measure “terrible medicine, terrible public policy and an assault on personal freedom.”
There was also turmoil surrounding the measure’s Senate sponsor, Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who became a lightning rod after comments he made on the Senate floor on March 19 that suggested a doctor should ask a woman who says she’s been raped if the pregnancy could have been “caused by normal relations in a marriage.”
Though Winder clarified he wasn’t questioning the truthfulness of rape victims or women, his email account, Facebook page and telephones were subsequently barraged with messages from foes of the bill.
On Tuesday, Winder said he couldn’t repeat many of the comments, which he said included threats of violence against him and his family.
“Passion is great,” Winder said Tuesday. “But disrespect devalues the opposition’s argument.”