Faith, Women and Healthcare Key to Ultrasound Abortion Debate


Opponents of a controversial measure that would force women to have ultrasounds before abortion - even in circumstances of rape or incest - are regrouping today, preparing for another round of public hearings on the matter, this time before the Idaho House.

Two hours of emotional testimony took up much of Wednesday's Senate State Affairs Committee hearing as lawmakers considered Senate Bill 1387

Opponents of the bill included concerned citizens, Monica Hopkins representing the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and more than one medical practitioner. Dr. Heather Hammerstedt, a board-certified emergency medical physician trained in health care reform at Harvard, was one of them.

“The standard of care should be determined by those providing that care,” said Dr. Hammerstedt. “Do not allow your real concern for the unborn to intervene with the medical profession”.

Dr. Hammerstedt said that the state wouldn’t mandate a spinal tap for every Idahoan’s headaches, and similarly shouldn’t require an ultrasound of all abortion cases. She and Huston Republican Sen. Patti Anne Lodge referred to concerns about ultrasounds required of women facing instances of unwanted children they couldn’t prevent.

“There are some points that make this very, very difficult for someone who has gone through rape or incest to go through a double procedure,” said Sen. Lodge.

The bill’s current wording contains no exemption for women facing pregnancy as a result of rape or incest. Furthermore, a document requiring the signature of the abortion physician and the ultrasound technician, according to the bill’s critics, could become public record, in violation of HIPA and other health privacy law.

“We may not only violate the privacy of the woman in that instance, should these records be made public,” said ACLU Idaho director Monica Hopkins, “but also the physician and their agent in performing and signing the statement.”

The bill’s supporters continued to claim that the bill is designed to make abortion an “informed choice,” and that women should be provided with all pertinent information before making the abortion decision.

According to the health care professionals who testified, there’s a problem with the bill’s insistence on an ultrasound to obtain a picture of the fetus. While a provision requiring transvaginal ultrasound was removed, Pam Reader, employed and registered as a RDMS to perform ultrasounds, a picture obtained before an abortion would show nothing akin to a human child.

“You do a different procedure based on the age of the fetus,” said Pam Reader who performs ultrasounds as a registered diagnostic medical stenographer. “The only time we take a picture of a baby, that looks like a baby, is to show the patient.”

For Reader, its more important to conduct other tests to ensure the health of the woman during the early stages of pregnancy, not to use invasive procedures to obtain a picture of a fetus.

“We like to look at the woman’s heart, the lungs, the brain and all the other stuff,” she said.

According to testimony, 80 percent of abortions are done before the 12th week of pregnancy. During that time, according to the health care experts present, a noninvasive ultrasound would turn up nothing, and not enough to record heartbeat and gestation as the bill requires.

“A transvaginal ultrasound would be required in the early stages of pregnancy in order to fill out the required information,” said Ketchum Democrat Sen. Michelle Stennett.

Stanton Healthcare founder Brandi Swindell and other supporters of 1387 said that expectant mothers pursuing an abortion could receive free ultrasounds, compulsory if the bill passes, at Idaho clinics. However, as Sen. Stennett pointed out, the only clinics that offer free ultrasounds are pro-life clinics like Stanton.

Yet more than once, opponents of the bill echoed fears of health care entities profiting from abortions.

“The woman does need to be assured that while an entity is making an income from her decision, her choice, she has the right to know that she is getting all the pertinent information that the doctor has for her body and her decision,” Julie Lindy of Cornerstone Family Council told the committee. “

A young woman named Stacey Harder, working for the pro-life Stanton Healthcare clinic in Boise, called the doctors performing abortions part of an “abortion industry.” Their mobile ultrasound equipment will be wheeled into the Capitol to show the public how their free external ultrasound procedure works.

"We will be reserving a room at the Idaho Capitol to perform a live ultrasound," said Swindell.

“You may want to find out if that is allowable in the Capitol building,” cautioned Stennett.

But opponents of the bill see the language as designed to shame women seeking their legal right to terminating a pregnancy regardless of their reason. They call the proposal an affront on freedom of religion, stating that the bill’s sponsor, Boise Republican Sen. Chuck Winder, is pushing the measure because of religious viewpoints.

“Many have likened this to the Taliban and Sharia Law,” said Sue Philley, armed with a petition against the bill bearing 4,000 signatures.

Nampa Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie, the committee’s chairman, quickly gaveled down Philley.

“Calling people and their approaches names or referring to them by metaphor or simile or by comparison to others that we all would repudiate is not helpful of either side,” said Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Bart Davis. “Please be respectful in your speech. We stop listening when people take that approach. And we want to listen.”

Stennett and Pocatello Democrat Edgar Malepeai expressed concerns about the legal precedent set by the bill. Malepeai’s original motion to hold the bill in committee failed in the face of the substitute motion, which passed 7-2 on a party line.

“We’re left with more questions than answers,” said Stennett.