by Carissa Wolf
Critics of an anti-abortion bill that they call a “war against women” continue to wield pens in defense of women’s rights despite the uncertainty of the bill they are opposing.
Republican Sen. Chuck Winder’s controversial legislation that would require all women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound procedure was abruptly pulled from the House calendar after a closed GOP caucus meeting Wednesday. The meeting came on the heels of a national press frenzy over comments made by Winder about rape victims, and on the same day that proponents of the legislation staged a media stunt that reporters likened to a “lively state fair product demo,” and critics called a circus.
News of the measure’s limbo status went viral Wednesday afternoon, but opponents of the measure didn’t want to take chances that the proposal was DOA and took aim at what’s left of the bill with keystrokes and pens.
A statewide petition drive that urged notoriously anti-government intervention lawmakers to keep politics out of health care decisions and vote against the measure that they say would mandate an unnecessary medical procedure picked up speed on Wednesday. And commentators continue to flood news and social media threads urging opposition to the bill.
“This bill should be thrown out with the rest of the trash!! Completely wrong for government to be forcing women to go through ANY kind of invasive procedure for ANY reason,” one Boise Weekly commentator wrote.
A petition circulated on change.org calls the bill “a case of government overreach into the private lives of Idaho Citizens and interferes in a joint medical process between a family and their doctor.” It calls on Gov. C.L “Butch” Otter to kill the bill that they say would constitute “government intrusion by writing into statute a specific medical procedure that may not be necessary.” Winder’s opposition added new signatures to the petition by the minute all day Wednesday and early Thursday morning. At press time, more than 2,600 people had signed that petition.
Another petition circulated by United Action for Idaho notes the “bill is designed to shame women and demean those seeking reproductive care,” and tells lawmakers that “politicians forcing doctors to use an ultrasound for political and not medical reasons, is the very definition of government intrusion.”
News that the bill may or may not have died didn’t keep the opposition from surrendering its pen in defense of women’s rights with raw assaults on Winder.
“The bill is DEAD?” wrote one Spokesman Review commentator wrote after the paper announced Senate Bill 1387’s limbo status. “…hopefully that is true. However, I also hope that any Taliban member that voted for this intrusion into women’s lives is also DEAD, politically that is.”
The critique has mounted against Winder since Monday, when he made comments before the Senate about why rape victims were not excluded from bill.
“Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage; was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape,” said Winder. “I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”
Many interpreted Winder’s comments as second guessing rape victims and women’s intelligence. Winder later tried to clarify his comments but the damage had already gone viral.
Idaho women who have called Winder’s bill a war on women now had an army of women across the nation calling Winder’s Senate comments his latest assault.
“I still think the best answer is for Winder to be shown what rape is, quite physically and viscerally. Then let him question women,” one Huffington Post commentator wrote. “By the way, since abortion happens to be LEGAL in the United States, what difference does it make why a woman is getting an abortion? It's legal, she has a right to it, and Winder, telling them ‘no’ will not get you laid.”
Boise Democratic Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb took a more refined edge as she questioned Winder’s statement on MSNBC, calling his remarks insensitive and disrespectful.
“I don't think it's good legislation; I think it's an intrusion of a woman. I think it's very unfortunate legislation, and I would prefer that it did not come to fruition,” Buckner-Webb said in an MSNBC interview on Wednesday. "When [women] have been violated, when they have been raped, when they are going through this terrible experience — mind, body and spirit — and someone says, ‘Is it really rape?’ it just goes to the core of second assault.”
Buckner-Webb’s critique went viral, drawing even more national attention and outrage from women across the country, who called Winder’s comments demeaning.
Critics of the measure say the bill that may be losing ground under Winder’s semantics was never popular with constituents to begin with and represented the beliefs of narrow interests.
“A pretty narrow group of folks want to force others to do things their way,” Boise Democrat Rep. Grant Burgoyne told the Boise Weekly in a recent interview. “There are too many people, who when they are elected to the Legislature, think that they are smarter than everyone else. Power corrupts.”
Twin Falls Republican Rep. Stephen Hartgen told the Spokesman Review’s Betsy Russell that the bill isn’t something Republican women in his district are backing. He told Russell that he sent an email survey to 15 Republican women in his district. Twelve responded and only one supported the measure.
“They felt this was not in the interest of either the party or women,” Hartgen told Russell.
More than 4,000 people opposing the measure have already signed a petition that was presented to lawmakers last week and more than 200 people rallied against the proposal at a recent Statehouse demonstration. About 250 crowded into a Senate Affairs Committee meeting March 14 and most of them erupted into applause following testimony challenging the measure.
Just a handful of onlookers showed up to watch a demonstration of an ultrasound given by proponents of the measure at the Statehouse on Wednesday. The demonstration was met by heckles and jeers.
Winder said he drafted the legislation at the urging of two representatives from Right to Life of Idaho. Representatives from crisis pregnancy centers constituted the bulk of support for the measure at the recent Senate Affairs Committee hearing.
The bill sailed through the Senate with a 23-12 vote and little debate from proponents. But Republican Senate Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher pulled the bill off the agenda before it could hit the House. The move didn’t necessarily kill the bill and lawmakers could see it again.
“My personal feeling is that there has been a lot of misinformation by the press and by others about what the effect of the legislation was, and I think in order for it to move forward, some of that needs to be cleared up,” Loertscher told KTVB.
While Loertscher blamed the media for stalling the bill, Facebook users gave some credit to Buckner-Webb — at least for letting the country know what the bill and its sponsor are really about:
“I don't know you and have never met you, but wanted to say ‘thank you!’ for being our voice and doing it with tact and strength. You represented strong Idaho women and made us very proud the last couple of days,” wrote one commentator on Buckner-Webb’s Facebook page.
“There is absolutely a War on Women in Idaho and across the country,” wrote another. “Thank you to Cherie and others for standing up for a women's right to make her own CHOICE.”
Click here to view the United Action for Idaho petition.