by Carissa Wolf
More than 200 opponents to legislation that would require women to undergo an ultrasound prior to having an abortion were shadowed by three counter-demonstrators at a Statehouse rally Thursday. But women’s rights advocates worried that their demonstration might not be enough to block the measure in Idaho’s notoriously conservative Legislature.
“Although I’m happy to see so many people here, I’m disappointed,” Hannah Brass of Planned Parenthood told the crowd. “I’m disappointed we’re still fighting for women’s rights.”
Jennifer Venokur Carter, a former registered nurse said the legislation would violate the sacred confidentiality and trust between a patient and her health care provider. She said the bill would take away the ability of doctors to use their medical expertise to best serve their patients and a woman's right to make her own health care choices.
“It sets a dangerous precedence,” said Carter
Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, said the bill would curtail a woman’s constitutional right to privacy and liberty by subjecting her to possibly unwanted and unnecessary medical procedures.
“Mandating an invasive procedure for political reasons is the ultimate in government intrusion,” said Hopkins. “Stop using women's reproductive health as a political campaign tool.”
Senate Bill 1349 mandates that women undergo an ultrasound prior to having an abortion. The measure leaves the ultrasound method up to physicians but critics of the legislation said that this leaves women vulnerable to forced, invasive transvaginal ultrasound procedures as they often yield the best imaging results. Opponents said a woman should never have a foreign object put into her vagina without her consent.
Meridian Republican Sen. Chuck Winder said he drafted the legislation in response to two women that represent Right to Life Idaho. Their move came as part of a national campaign to require pre-abortion ultrasounds in an effort to reduce the number of abortions. Legislatures in Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia have also considered similar legislation that some have termed “heartbeat bills.”
Kerry Uhlenkott with Right to Life told the Boise Weekly that the bill was intended to help women change their minds about having an abortion.
“Information empowers women to make informed decisions,” said Uhlenkott. “We see it as a way of helping women.”
But Brass couldn't disagree more.
“We all know that’s not the case. This is about government intrusion in women’s lives,” Brass said. “This is a huge step backwards, Instead of focusing on jobs and the economy, [lawmakers] are interfering with decisions that should be left to women, their doctors and faith.”
Opponents of the legislation said the number of people that took part in Thursday's rally and testified against a measure aimed at restricting contraceptive coverage speaks to the degree of outrage Idahoans feel toward efforts to clamp down on heath care access, reproductive freedoms and individual choice. But they said they remained wary that despite their numbers, lawmakers might not listen to their voices.
“It probably will pass.” said Boise Democratic Rep. Grant Burgoyne of the proposed measure. “A pretty narrow group of folks want to force others to do things their way, There are too many people, who when they are elected to the Legislature, think that they are smarter than everyone else. Power corrupts.”
A handful of lawmakers representing the small Democratic hold in the Statehouse showed their opposition to SB 1349 at the rally.
“To me, the bill is like government-sponsored rape. To force any woman who has been raped to go through that procedure is like being raped again,” Debbie Mallis told Burgoyne.
“I agree,” Burgoyne replied. “I regard the bill as a war on women and a war on the rest of our liberties. If politicians can invade a woman’s body, what they’re saying is there isn’t anything they cannot do to the rest of us. When one of us is not free, all of us are not free.”
The Senate State Affairs Committee is slated to hear testimony on the measure next Wednesday, March 14, at 8 a.m.
Three men showed up to a counter demonstration across Jefferson Street carrying signs that read, “Equal Rights for the Pre-Born” and “Abortion Kills Unborn Broncos.” At the end of the rally, one of the men walked up the Capitol steps, turned around, faced the dispersing crowd and yelled, “You should be ashamed!”
“So you don’t want to view an ultrasound? Why don’t you want to know?” the man yelled. “Shame on you! Go home!”
“Shame on you!” Connie Onyon of Meridian replied. “And you speak for women? Where’s your uterus?”