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Ultrasound Bill Won't Fly, Even in the "Reddest" of States

Illustration of two women back to back embracing their pregnant bodies.
Illustration of two women back to back embracing their pregnant bodies.
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April 2, 2012

It seems almost unreal. I’ve been repeatedly asked, “What happened? How did you do it?” And in contemplating how, as the second reddest state in the nation, Idaho refused to pass a mandatory ultrasound bill — I can only come up with one answer. Women were watching — and Idahoans got engaged.

Legislators may have expected the bill to sail through, but they got some early clues that it would not. Over 200 people showed up for the first public hearing on the bill. The first person to testify handed the committee a petition opposing the bill with over 4,000 signatures.

Idaho historically has a small government libertarian streak and much of the floor debate opposing the bill was not on the issue of being “pro-life” or “pro-choice” but rather the gross abuse of government power and intrusion into individuals’ lives.

But some weren’t listening. In the context of this bill, when people pointed out the lack of an exception for victims of sexual violence or medical emergencies, Sen. Chuck Winder responded to these concerns by saying, “I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, 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 rape?”

No other comment shed more light on the true intent of this bill and many of the anti-choice bills across the nation. It is as if he said to all women: We don’t trust you to make good decisions. We don’t think you are capable. And if you decide, whatever your circumstance, to terminate the pregnancy, you should have to submit to what amounts to government hazing.

Sen. Winder’s statements went viral. Idaho appeared on the national stage as a link in a chain of nationally embarrassing things legislators are saying about women’s reproductive health decisions. As if this wasn’t enough, anti-choice activists staged a live ultrasound demonstration inside the Idaho Capitol. After this attempt to turn women’s personal medical decisions into a political side show, hundreds of Idahoans held a silent vigil to oppose the bill.

And last week, legislators finally got the messages. “The big problem that’s been identified is the mandatory ultrasound,” said House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher.

We couldn’t agree more.

So what worked? How were we able to stop this in Idaho? The truth of the matter is that people showed up to the Capitol. Women were watching. Their families were watching. Communities were watching. And they all demanded the government stop shaming women and treating them like they are stupid. Idaho legislators finally saw this bill for what it was — an overreach of government power and an intrusion into personal, private medical decisions.

Will this bill come back? Maybe. Will there be more anti-choice legislation, maybe even worse? Probably. But this moment in time should be savored. In Idaho and, indeed, all across the country, people have been activated. They have engaged in the legislative process to defeat threats to our reproductive freedom. Let’s celebrate this as an example of what we can accomplish when we stand up and make our voices heard.

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