BOISE • For Idaho’s House Republicans, being pro-life doesn’t mean supporting an ultrasound mandate.
That was the message legislators delivered after canceling a public hearing on a bill to require women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion. The move came hours after protests against the legislation and a live ultrasound demonstration by supporters of the bill, which passed the Senate on a 23-12 vote Monday.
After a closed-door GOP caucus, House State Affairs Chairman Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said the move doesn’t mean the bill is dead, but that he couldn’t guarantee he would schedule a public hearing.
Though the bill had strong Republican support in the Senate, some House members were swayed by constituent feedback and protests.
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said he asked Republican women in his district what they thought of the mandate. Of the 12 who responded, only one supported the bill, he said. Some were concerned about a government mandate, while others didn’t like what they saw as a privacy violation, Hartgen said.
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said constituent response affected her colleagues’ decision.
“Most of the people they’re hearing from are disturbed about the mandate and the … interference between a woman and her physician,” Bell said.
Assistant Minority Leader Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, said she was surprised at the news, but added that there was a huge mobilization against the bill.
The move came hours after an ultrasound demonstration organized by anti-abortion activists, where six women volunteered to have sonographers give them ultrasounds in a Senate committee room. Outside, dozens of picketers protested the bill and comments about rape victims made by bill sponsor Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise.
Six women, in different stages of pregnancy, participated in the demonstration, allowing sonographers from pregnancy crisis center Stanton Healthcare to take ultrasounds. The earliest pregnancy was about 10 weeks. The six women declined to give their last names.
Stanton’s Brandi Swindell repeatedly emphasized that the abdominal procedure was non-invasive and not uncomfortable.
“How is this offensive?” she said at one point as an image of a fetus filled the projector screen.
The difference, demonstrators in the hall said, is that many women choose to have an abortion much earlier than the six women participating in the demonstration. Also, the six women had chosen to keep their pregnancies — of course they wouldn’t be upset by seeing an image of the ultrasound.
Women are already offered a chance to see an ultrasound image, said Jennifer Carter of Meridian. “To mandate it is different,” she said.
Those protests weren’t lost on House representatives.
“They felt like after the hearing in the Senate turned out to be so inflammatory that they weren’t sure, with the picketing and everything, if they’re ready for that kind of thing again,” Bell said after the caucus.
“It really makes a difference to take a deep breath and take a step back,” he said.