The Republican-driven Idaho State Senate voted 23-12 on March 19 to advance a measure that could force women to undergo ultrasounds prior to having an abortion. Five Republican senators crossed the aisle to join all Democratic members of the Senate in opposing the bill.
The legislation has already garnered national media attention from commentators and pundits who noted that "things had gone from bad to worse for Idaho women."
"It's enough to make you want to grab one of those magic transvaginal ultrasound wands and jam it deep into the ear of the bill's author, [Boise Republican] Sen. Chuck Winder, to see what, exactly, is going on in that head of his," wrote commentator Cassie Murdoch on the female-based website Jezebel.com.
Lawmakers heard similar sentiments from a packed committee hearing room on March 14.
"This is for less government intrusion in the lives of women," Sue Philley told lawmakers, presenting a petition signed by 4,000 Idahoans in opposition to the measure. "They want you to focus on jobs, the economy and the environment, not their bedrooms and most personal decisions."
The audience erupted into applause.
"Please do not disparage the committee members," State Affairs Committee Chair Nampa Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie said.
Philley's testimony was interrupted a second time after she likened efforts to pass the law to those of oppressive totalitarian regimes such as the Taliban.
"We stop listening when you take that approach," Idaho Falls Republican Bart Davis said.
Susan Young, of the anti-abortion organization Life Choices, said the bill enhanced existing informed-consent laws and gives women a chance to understand the progress of fetal development.
"They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This bill would allow women to see a picture with sound of the fetus she is about to have removed from her body," Young said.
Backers of the bill that shadows legislative efforts in Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas largely represented anti-abortion pregnancy crisis centers, saying they spoke for the unborn and challenged the morality of abortion.
Critics of the measure called on lawmakers to trust the intelligence of women and physicians to make personal health-care decisions and reminded the committee that passage of the law would constitute undue burden and government interference in the lives of women. One physician said the measure would set precedence in mandating a medical procedure.
"We must call this what it is--a deliberate attempt to weaken our constitutional rights," said Adrienne Evans with United Action for Idaho."This is the very definition of government intrusion. Idaho lawmakers should not interfere with medical decisions that should be left up to health-care providers and women."
In support of the measure, Julie Lindy of Cornerstone Family Counseling said it was "irresponsible to keep information from women who are sexually irresponsible."
"The baby in my opinion is a citizen. So when government steps in ... that certainly is appropriate," Lindy said.
The bill offers provisions for a Health and Welfare-managed referral system for free ultrasounds. But those free ultrasounds would be offered by anti-abortion groups that don't always have a physician on staff or abide by federal confidentiality rules.
Monica Hopkins with the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho noted that the law requires a doctor to sign off on the ultrasound, but abortion providers don't offer free ultrasounds. She said the redundant measure could force women to undergo two ultrasound procedures, adding delay and expense to health-care decisions.
"Every woman already has the right to review an ultrasound as part of this informed consent," said Hopkins.
The bill also requires doctors to document the date and time of the abortion, along with the gestation of the pregnancy and the number of fetal heartbeats, then provide the information to the patient. Hopkins said the requirement could violate HIPPA guidelines and expose patients' information through public records.
"It may not only violate the privacy of the woman, but also the physician," Hopkins said. "These are private decisions that should be made between a physician and a patient."
The measure would allow a doctor to choose what kind of ultrasound to use but Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett noted that transvaginal ultrasounds are often the only way to gauge gestation prior to 10 weeks of pregnancy, when about 80 percent of abortions occur.
The committee's decision to send the bill to the Senate met a collective roar of gasps from the roughly 250 audience members.
"What a bunch of fascists!" one person yelled to the committee as members quickly exited the room.