Re-election anxieties stall ultrasound bill in Idaho

Posted on March 22, 2012

The Kansas City Star, March 22, 2012 by Dan Popkey

After an extraordinary closed-door caucus late Wednesday, House GOP leaders canceled Thursday’s 7:45 a.m. hearing on Senate Bill 1387. House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said the bill isn’t dead, but neither has another hearing or caucus been scheduled.

A half-dozen members of State Affairs expressed concern in the private setting, including reliable conservatives such as Reps. Kathy Sims of Coeur d’Alene and Lynn Luker of Boise.

Though caucus proceedings are considered secret, Luker told the Idaho Statesman he has heard from many voters opposed to the bill.

“Basically, I’m listening to constituents, and they aren’t just Democrats,” Luker said. “They’re Republicans, they’re from across the spectrum. That was No. 1.”

Ten House Republicans who spoke to the Statesman said the bill can yet be saved, with some saying it might have to be amended. They worry about the bill overreaching and threatening their re-election.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a co-sponsor of the bill, said running in new legislative districts is fueling anxiety. “Everybody’s exhausted,” she said. “This is an extremely emotional issue. It’s an election year. For a lot of people I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Boyle holds out hope. “A time-out is good for everybody. And you know how the end of the session is: Anything can happen.”

The bill, which passed the Senate 23-12 Monday, mandates that women seeking abortions have an ultrasound to determine whether or not there is a fetal heartbeat, and, if so, the heart rate. Also, gestational age must be determined by a physician before an abortion.

Gov. Butch Otter is hearing from the public as well, with nearly 400 people posting on his Facebook page since Sunday, urging a veto. Just a handful of posts backed SB 1387.

Otter appeared in the Capitol basement Wednesday as an exhibition of ultrasounds on six pregnant women sponsored by backers of SB 1387 broke up in a nearby committee room.

“No comment,” Otter said when asked if he would sign the bill.

The pressure intensified with the late entry of a Democratic challenger to Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, the bill’s top Senate sponsor. James Mace, an Iraq War veteran, needs 50 write-in votes in the May primary to get on the November ballot against Winder.

“I’m not running as a placeholder,” Mace told 150 opponents of the bill outside the Capitol. “This is not a protest. No, I am here to dethrone Chuck Winder.”

Winder made international news during Senate debate Monday for suggesting a married woman who had been raped would surely consult with her doctor about whether “this pregnancy (was) caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape.”

Another factor Wednesday was the spectacle of anti-abortion activist Brandi Swindell’s ultrasound demonstration, which was a topic of discussion when House Republicans met.

Swindell’s Stanton Healthcare in Boise is the only provider of free ultrasounds in Ada County and one of seven in Idaho. The state already mandates that women receive state-written brochures describing fetal development. SB 1387 would require they also receive a list of free ultrasound providers like Stanton. Of 1,650 abortions performed in Idaho in 2009, 95 percent were in Ada County.

Swindell ran the exhibition like a TV show, exclaiming, “Twins! Come on!” when two images appeared on large screens. She coaxed the names from the mom: Diego and Gianni.

Swindell said demonstrating the painless and easy abdominal ultrasounds would calm the controversy. No transvaginal examinations were performed.

But the demonstration provided Julia Harter of Boise no comfort. Harter and other opponents spent 45 minutes after the exhibition with Julie Lynde of Cornerstone Institute, who helped draft the bill. Harter, 32, told Lynde she was raped 15 years ago. “You’re saying I’m not intelligent enough to read a pamphlet and understand what’s going on in my uterus. I can tell you as a rape victim, I want your laws off of me. Thank God I didn’t get pregnant.”

Lynde said she sympathized with all victims of rape and women who bear the burden of pregnancy and child-rearing. But she said, “The pamphlet is about the female body. The ultrasound is about her body.”

By the time Republicans convened privately at 4 p.m., the tumult had given many lawmakers cold feet, said Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, a State Affairs member.

“It was probably the most interesting caucus I’ve been in my 20 years here,” Black said. “I was quite surprised by the concerns raised from across the board.”

Black said his wife, Clydene, had never expressed her views to him on a bill in all those 20 years — until now. “By darn, she talked to me about this. She said, ‘I don’t understand how the Legislature thinks it can do this to women.’ ”

Outside of the caucus, Black said, colleagues have raised worries about the upcoming first-ever closed GOP primary. “They are struggling with voting their conscience vs. the fear for re-election.”

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said he is conflicted by his pro-life views and concerns about government intrusion into the practice of medicine. “I’m pro-life and I’m pro-business. That’s the dilemma for a lot of people. People are struggling.”

Hagedorn agreed it’s too soon to predict the bill’s fate: “I don’t think we’re done talking about this.”

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Posted in: Idaho