Friday, March 23, 2012

Ultrasound bill has become a zombie

People whose business it is to read the political tea leaves to predict how Idaho legislators may vote are declaring that a bill is dead that would have required pregnant women to undergo an ultrasound scan before they could get an abortion.

But is it really dead? Or will it rest zombie-like, only to rise up amended but in effect, just as alive as before?

Women should not rest easy until legislators clearly and unequivocally reject the very idea of forcing medical tests on women.

In a surprise move, House State Affairs Committee Chair Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, cancelled yesterday's hearing scheduled for SB 1387.

He said the committee wanted more information on the bill before considering it. It's important to note that he cancelled the meeting after House Republicans met for an hour in a closed-door caucus.

While we welcome the outcome, it's a shame the House Republicans didn't weigh the pros and cons of considering the bill in public. The backroom discussions left no one any wiser about this particular piece of public business and the politics that brought it to a halt.

Some Republican representatives said outside the caucus that they had received significant numbers of contacts from constituents who opposed the bill.

They said many opposed it because it would make government a party to what should be a private decision between a woman and her physician. Countering the government-intrusion implications of the bill is a tough proposition even for the most vehement anti-abortion conservatives.

But that didn't stop a Senate majority that had passed the bill by 2 to 1. Legislative observers said what really stopped it in the House was the prospect of an election-year furor that could sweep Republican legislators from office.

Even Gov. Butch Otter was feeling the heat. The bill's probable demise has to be a relief for the man whose Facebook page overflowed with comments from hundreds of constituents who opposed the ultrasound bill—and just a few who supported it. If the House refusal to take up the bill continues, libertarian-leaning Otter will not have to decide to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

Even if the bill doesn't reappear in the final days of this legislative session, Idaho women should not consider it dead.

Unless legislators on the stump hear from voters loudly and clearly that they should keep the government's hands off women's bodies, that women don't want to be treated like ninnies who are incapable of making decisions for themselves, ideologues inevitably will breathe life into the bill again in subsequent sessions.

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