The Senate State Affairs Committee pushed a controversial measure forward this morning that would force women to undergo ultrasounds prior to having an abortion.
Today’s party-line vote followed emotional debate that had proponents waving graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and opponents questioning the legality and redundancy of the proposal.
Backers of the legislation said they spoke on behalf of the unborn in support of a measure that would help women make informed decisions and ultimately reduce the number of abortions.
Critics of the measure called on lawmakers to trust the intelligence of women and their ability to make personal medical decisions. They asked them to uphold patient privacy acts and reminded the committee that passage of the law would constitute undue burden and government interference in the lives of women who may have to undergo two ultrasounds. One physician said the measure would set precedence in mandating a medical procedure.
The 7-2 vote fell along party lines.
The measure comes on the heels of 2007 legislation that enacted informed consent laws and leaves the ultrasound method up to the doctor. Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett questioned whether the bill would supersede existing law and noted the women in the early stages of pregnancy would be forced to have a transvaginal ultrasound.
“I’m trying to think of any other required medical procedure. The only one I can think of is a blood draw when someone refuses a breathalyzer,” she said.
Stacey Harder with Stanton Healthcare, an anti-abortion pregnancy crisis center, told lawmakers she represents the demographic the bill targets and said Senate Bill 1387 would guide her and others in making health care decisions.
“I believe an ultrasound would help me make an informed decision,” she said.
But proponents say the measure questions women’s intelligence and ability to make decisions on their own.
“It does not help women. It shames and demeans women who are seeking the health care they need,” said Hannah Brass, legislative director of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, a lobbying branch of Planned Parenthood.
Brass said the bill places undue burden on women, especially those who are poor or living in rural areas, and mandates a medical procedure for political rather than medical reasons.
Huston Republican Sen. Patti Anne Lodge said the legislation would get women “into a life-affirming environment so she could get the counseling she needs.”
But Lodge noted the bill doesn’t exempt victims of rape or incest.
“I just think there are some points in this that would make it difficult for someone who has gone through rape or incest to go through a dual procedure,” Lodge said.
“It seems to me that physicians have always been open with women about their options. This seems to be an intrusion on the privacy of a patient and a physician,” Pocatello Democrat Sen. Edgar Malepeai said before moving to hold the bill.
Rexburg Republican Sen. Brent Hill offered a substitute motion to move the legislation forward with a “due pass.”
“Concern for the unborn is at the forefront of my decision,” Hill said.
“What about the separation of church and state?” an audience member yelled as the decision was read.
“What a bunch of fascists!” yelled another.