After examining immigration and capital punishment earlier this summer, the ACLU of Idaho slid the topic of women's reproductive rights into the spotlight Aug. 9 to wrap up its first-ever Law and Liberty Lecture Series, a trio of noontime panel discussions held at the Idaho State Bar's Boise headquarters.
Although Senate Bill 1387, mandating an ultrasound procedure for any Idaho woman seeking an abortion, erupted into a Statehouse showdown (and its ultimate withdrawal of the measure) in March, the controversial legislation was Exhibit A as panelists considered current reproductive laws in Idaho and the possibility of future restrictions.
"I don't think we've ever had a single year in the past 10 or 15 years that we haven't seen attacks on reproductive rights," said Hannah Brass, legislative director of Planned Parenthood Northwest. "We expect to see something, or something like this [in the near future]. But I'm sure [legislators] are having conversations about bringing it back."
Brass joined Dr. Darin Weyhrich, a Boise OBGYN, and attorney Alan Herzfeld of the Boise-based Herzfeld and Piotrowski law firm on the panel for the event, dubbed "Women's Equality and Reproductive Rights."
"What was wrong with this bill?" Brass asked about SB 1387. "Everything. At a broad level, it was demeaning and shamed women seeking legal and safe reproductive health care."
Additionally, according to Brass, the measure included no exceptions for instances of rape, incest or fetal anomalies.
"If you need to terminate because it is not a viable pregnancy, when you go in for the abortion, you would have had to undergo another ultrasound that you would pay for again before the abortion," said Brass. "There was no exception."
The Idaho Senate passed the controversial measure 23-12, though five Republican members joined all seven Democrats in opposition. Two days later, the bill was abruptly pulled from a scheduled hearing before a House committee.
Though the measure died before reaching a final vote in the House, abortion exception issues already exist within Idaho law. According to Weyhrich, under the jurisdiction of the so-called fetal pain bill, abortions cannot be administered in the state after 20 gestational weeks.
"Because there is what I would refer to as 'some relatively fringe science that a fetus can perceive pain beginning at 20 weeks,' that restrains the right of a woman to be able to terminate her pregnancy," he said.
Weyhrich also pointed to what he called a "very large gaping exception" of fetuses with medical anomalies that deem them incompatible with life, something he said occurs four to six times a year in Idaho.
"The current law will not consider the exception," he said. "In every single one of those cases, if you wanted to end the pregnancy early, you would have to leave this state. I find that deeply disturbing."
Panelists pointed to other Idaho reproductive laws, which they said limited women's access to reproductive health care.
"Whether or not the legislature and specifically these specific legislators are courageous enough to bring back [the ultrasound measure], I don't know," said Brass. "It would have to look different. Really, the only way they could water it down would be not to mandate an ultrasound. But then they wouldn't have a bill."