Friday, March 30, 2012

Ultrasound bill dead, but not forgotten

Advocates say bill will be amended

From left, Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and interns Alysha Prisbrey and Shelby Scott participate in a protest vigil against state-mandated ultrasounds before abortions on Monday night. The bill that the women were protesting died in committee but threatens to return next year.

The Idaho ultrasound bill, which would have required women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound before doing so, is dead but not forgotten, according to state anti-abortion activists.

Jason Herring, president of Right to Life Idaho, said in a press release earlier this week that the purpose of the bill was to ensure that women are fully informed before they make a decision regarding ending a pregnancy.

"Women cannot make a fully informed decision if they are kept in the dark about the reality, visibility and humanity of the life growing and developing within their womb," he stated in a press release. "[Children] deserve the right to be seen just as every woman deserves the right to make a fully informed decision about abortion."

The release said the group chose to withdraw the bill due to "misconceptions" about the legislation and the complexity of the issue. Those misconceptions include the lack of an emergency clause, said Jeff Uhlenkott, Right to Life Idaho finance committee member.

"[Opponents] make out like there was no medical emergency provision in the bill," he said in an interview. "It's in there."

However, the only exemption contained in the bill is one already included in Idaho law—to exempt women who require an emergency abortion for medical reasons from the 24-hour waiting period required by the state.

The next part of the bill—the part that mandates an ultrasound prior to the beginning of an abortion procedure—has no such exemption. The bill, Senate Bill 1387, does not exempt women from the ultrasound requirement in case of rape or incest.

Sara Kiesler, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, called the bill disrespectful to women—and all Idahoans.

"This bill does not have any place in Idaho," she said. "Our legislature should be focusing on the real things Idahoans care about, like jobs and education. [This bill] showed a total disregard for the women of Idaho."

Kiesler added that nothing currently prohibits a woman from requesting an ultrasound before terminating a pregnancy, and Planned Parenthood offers that option.

"We offer care based on a patient's medical circumstances," she said. "It's up to the doctor and the woman to make that decision."

Uhlenkott said the other major misconception regarding the bill was that it required trans-vaginal ultrasounds, as opposed to the less-invasive abdominal ultrasound.

This confusion might arise from the fact that Texas passed a bill last year that required transvaginal ultrasounds before abortions, and Virginia's widely covered ultrasound bill also originally required a transvaginal ultrasound. Virginia's bill has since been amended.

Idaho's bill did not require a transvaginal ultrasound, merely an ultrasound "using whichever method the physician and patient agree is best under the circumstances."

The bill requires a doctor to hear a fetal heartbeat before signing off on an abortion. However, Kiesler said, 90 percent of abortions are performed before 12 weeks of gestation, and Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, and the Senate's only practicing physician, said last week that an abdominal ultrasound done during that period would be "limited" in establishing a heartbeat.

"It depends on the position of the embryo, it depends on the position of the uterus, it depends on the size of the woman," he said in a Senate hearing on Monday, March 19.

Because of that, Kiesler said, the bill virtually requires transvaginal ultrasounds.

"Just by leaving that language out, it doesn't fix the bill," she said.

Uhlenkott argued that abdominal ultrasounds are accurate enough to establish a heartbeat, and the bill does not require any invasive procedure.

"When my wife and I were having kids, we had abdominal ultrasounds," he said. "The abdominal ones [today] are so much better than the ones we had. There have been so many strides in technology."

No matter the method, Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said that even if the bill is amended and reintroduced next year, its fundamental problem is unfixable.

"The essence of the bill, about an ultrasound being mandatory, isn't going to change," she said. "It's that piece that is infringing on women's rights."

This bill was only the latest in a slate of abortion-related bills in recent years in Idaho.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that changed the abortion cutoff point from the federally set 24 weeks of gestation to 20 weeks, on the grounds that a fetus can feel pain after that point.

The bill was made law last year, and Stennett said she knows of three or four cases in which women have had children diagnosed with fetal anomalies after 20 weeks—deformations so severe that while the fetus will survive in the mother's womb, it would not survive after birth.

"Unfortunately, all except one of those women had to go out of state to get medical procedures," she said. "Sometimes, we don't really think about the impact these bills have on the person on the ground."

Stennett said abortion or end-of-life bills come up at least once a year. This year, the ultrasound bill was joined with a bill regarding state-funded contraception as well as a medical-consent and natural-death bill.

Kiesler said that if the ultrasound bill were reintroduced next year, Planned Parenthood would continue to fight it with phone campaigns, protests and vigils, much as it did this year.

"There is nothing just or humane about [this bill]," she said.

Katherine Wutz:

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