by Carissa Wolf
Last week, the Idaho Legislature began considering a controversial measure that would require women to undergo ultrasounds prior to abortion. But activist groups said a large constituency stands positioned to defend abortion access as they vow to push the wave of opposition against Senate Bill 1349 forward with a rally cry that will be heard on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse today.
Voices from a coalition of women’s rights groups will echo at a noontime demonstration on the steps of the Capitol, in defense of reproductive freedom in what they call a “war on women’s health.”
“This bill is just one of many being considered by the Legislature this year that seeks to restrict access to legal and safe medical procedures and services. Similar restrictions on access to reproductive health care have been seen in many state legislatures throughout the country this year,” a coalition of Senate Bill 1349 opponents wrote in a press release.
“The government should not be in the position of mandating procedures. Lawmakers are not doctors. This bill curtails women’s constitutional rights to privacy and liberty by subjecting them to possibly unwanted and unnecessary medical procedures,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.
Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the ACLU of Idaho and United Action for Idaho are slated to challenge the bill’s backers, sponsor Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise) and Right to Life of Idaho, when the bill comes up for a committee hearing as early as next week. Winder said he drafted the legislation in response to two women who hoped pre-abortion ultrasounds would persuade women to rethink the procedure.
“This would be a powerful piece of legislation that would empower women,” said Kerry Uhlenkott with Right to Life. “We see it (the bill) as a way of helping women.”
Absent from the debate remains the once-vocal lobbying force of the now-defunct Idaho Women’s Network, which stood in opposition to efforts to dismantle reproductive rights and erect barriers to abortion.
"Legislators will ultimately not address issues important to women," said Lisa McClain, Boise State's director of Gender Studies, following the 2010 closure of IWN.
But a new wave of feminism began to crest in Idaho when the state lost the formidable lobbying force of the Idaho Women’s Network to funding shortfalls. Women’s rights activists feared that the loss of the IWN would translate into an even more-oppressive political environment for women in Idaho’s largely male Legislature and a smooth sail for measures that would clamp down on women’s reproductive rights and freedoms.
In the wake of the dismantling of IWN, Winder lamented the loss of the powerful voice in women’s rights and vowed to seek out perspectives lost by the defunding of the women’s advocacy group.
“Whenever you lose a collective voice, you lose something,” Winder said after IWN’s closure in 2010. “They’re always been a pretty big force in representing their constituents. They had a presence,” he said.
They are still here, activists said.
During a recent interview with Boise Weekly, Hannah Brass, legislative director of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, sat directly across from Winder's desk.
“I told him that the purpose of bills like his was to shame and demean women,” Brass said.
Brass said critics of Winder’s ultrasound bill have already heralded loud cries against the measure in large and diverse numbers. She expects a large turnout at the upcoming hearing and says she’s already witnessed a surge of opposition speak out against the measure. Constituents are calling representatives and one gentleman recently took off a day of work to lobby lawmakers to vote against the measure, Brass said.
Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the ACLU of Idaho and United Action for Idaho all report an inundation of phone calls and emails regarding SB1349.
“People are upset and want to let their lawmakers know that this overreach of our state government is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. That is why we are hosting this rally; to give people a voice and let the Idaho legislature know that people are paying attention and that they are not happy” said Leo Morales, public education and communications coordinator for the ACLU of Idaho.