In what is widely being seen as a victory for reproductive rights (not to mention rational thought), Idaho politicians have backed off of a forced ultrasound bill. The bill has not been officially killed yet, but this is a positive sign.
The bill, which was proposed by state Senator Chuck Winder, mandated that women must have an ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion. The legislation also stipulated that a doctor or clinic employee must perform the ultrasound, although part of the bill also mandated that a list of places where the ultrasound could be performed for free be made accessible to women. Neither Winder nor the bill’s supporters seemed concerned that the most common kind of places to performs free ultrasounds are crisis pregnancy clinics, which are not exactly known for giving women accurate, unbiased medical information. And of course, if a woman did decide to get an ultrasound at a free clinic, then the exam wouldn’t have been performed by the doctor or abortion clinic staff, as is also required in the bill, so she’d have to get yet another ultrasound done, and be charged for it.
All of these contradictions aren’t surprising, though, given that Winder publicly stated that his reason for proposing this bill was to “convince a woman not to go through with abortion,” and earlier this week he said during a Senate debate that “[r]ape 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.”
It looked like Winder’s assault on science, logic, sensitivity, and individual autonomy would become public law earlier this week, after the state Senate voted in favor of the bill. Yet after a closed-door hearing late Wednesday night, House GOP leaders cancelled a Thursday-morning hearing on the bill. While this doesn’t mean that the bill is dead – after all, it could always be amended to make the requirements more palatable, a la Virginia – no replacement hearing or caucus was scheduled. Since the legislature ends its session on March 28, if a hearing isn’t held by tomorrow it is unlikely that the bill will come up for a vote this year, at least.
According to the Idaho Statesmen, many legislators became concerned following public outcry from the citizens of Idaho. “Basically, I’m listening to constituents, and they aren’t just Democrats … they’re Republicans, they’re from across the spectrum. That was No. 1,” conservative Rep. Lynn Luker said.
And that public pressure was indeed impressive. More than 400 posts on Gov. Butch Otter’s Facebook page spoke out against the bill; petitions were signed, and activists also demonstrated at the Capitol. Ironically, the spectacle put on by anti-choice activist Brandi Swindell, who cheerfully gave women ultrasounds in a basement meeting room in the Capitol building to show support for the measure, may have also led to the decision to back away from the bill. Swindell apparently “ran the exhibition like a TV show,” asking women for the names of their unborn children and proclaiming that one fetus was “ready to testify.” While only six of the state’s 105 legislators attended the demonstration, a lot of pro-choice protestors showed up and raised some very reasonable objections – namely, that all the women getting ultrasounds had actually wanted them, and that plenty of information is already available to women about pregnancy and abortion.
It’s doubtful that any one factor – Swindell, the Facebook posts, or petitions, or constituents speaking out, or even the legislators’ very reasonable concerns about scotching their own chances for re-election – led to the decision to table the legislation. Yet seeing such a concerted and vocal outcry in support of women’s rights is fantastic, and hopefully will provide a useful blueprint for activists in other states that might be considering similarly ridiculous legislation.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.