BOISE, Idaho -- Prompting references to Jesus and George Orwell, a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound exam before getting an abortion was approved on a 23-12 vote Monday.
The Senate debated the measure for almost two hours before advancing it to the House. Five Republicans voted in opposition, together with all seven Senate Democrats.
The co-sponsor, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood, said the legislation "doesn't take away a woman's right to have an abortion; it will only help her right to be fully informed before she has an abortion performed on her.
"Last week we passed a bill requiring the labeling of honey so consumers can be informed about what they're eating," said Nuxoll, a devout Catholic. "Shouldn't we require that the best, most scientific evidence be given to the woman before she makes this life decision? Shouldn't we require information be provided to women so they don't fall into the despair and guilt that most often happens after an abortion? Where is our compassion?"
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he was personally opposed to abortion but felt this bill was an unwarranted intrusion into the doctor-patient and patient-clergy relationship.
"This bill is just another litmus test to prove you're truly a conservative," he said. "There seems to be a presumption that any woman considering an abortion is uninformed and needs government guidance. I would submit that, rather than government guidance, that guidance should come from her physician and family and clergy member.
"No one should be required to have a medical procedure they don't want If Jesus were sitting right here beside me -- and I believe he is -- how would he advise me? In my heart I think he'd say, 'Jim, you're stepping beyond the role of government. You're stepping into my world, and you need to step back.' "
The other cosponsor, Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder of Boise, noted Idaho already requires women seeking an abortion be offered an ultrasound exam, if ultrasound equipment is available in the doctor's office.
This bill "takes it one step further," he said, and requires any office that performs abortions have ultrasound equipment and patients receive the procedure.
There's no exception for medical emergencies, or for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Opponents say the bill also requires a trans-vaginal ultrasound for fetuses under 10 weeks old, though Winder disputes that.
"I believe the state does have an interest in the life of the unborn," he said. "That's what this debate is about."
Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said the measure reminded him of "1984," George Orwell's classic portrait of totalitarian society.
"How far are we going to allow the power of the state to intrude and not just influence, but dictate what we do?" Bock asked. "This bill is reiterating '1984.' It's a reach into the private lives of women who have all the responsibility and understanding they need to make decisions about their own lives. This bill wants to say the state knows better. This is just another version of Big Brother."
Sen. Dan Schmidt, a Moscow family physician, said the abortion rate in Idaho is about one-third the national average. Information he provided indicated there were about 1,500 abortions in the state in 2010, with 95 percent of them performed in Ada County.
"We've heard debate about the risk of grief and guilt," he said. "People need to be aware that the choices they make are not casual -- but I have never seen this choice being made casually. Yet we as a state are deciding that's not enough, that a decision between a woman and her doctor needs our help, so we're going to require something else."
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said this was a very difficult issue, but he noted that couples who want to get married have to certify they've received and read information regarding AIDS before they can get a marriage license.
"It seems to me there are a lot of places in our government where we reach out and express an interest in the health of our community," he said. "I see this issue much the same way. It isn't a perfect bill, but a senator has to fight for the cause of life."
Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, dismissed this as "just one more bill we're going to be wasting taxpayer dollars to defend because it's unconstitutional."
She said a retired pastor asked her "why we're wasting our time on this unwarranted, unnecessary invasion of individual rights instead of focusing on important issues like job creation or feeding the hungry."
"The only explanation I could come up with is that a few of my colleagues are bent on pushing their own personal ideology and political agenda," she said.
Spence may be contacted at bspencelmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.
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