In a major victory for pro-choice advocates Tuesday, a House committee killed a bill requiring pregnant women to be told they have the right to view an ultrasound of their fetus and must wait 24 hours before having an abortion.
Of course, since the pro-choice stance won, that means the anti-abortion legislators who sponsored House Bill 156 lost again on an issue they’ve tried and failed to pass many times since it was first offered in 1993.
Several Wyoming women and physicians urged the House Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee to reject the attempt to insert government into the private doctor-patient relationship. Six of the nine-member panel then voted to reject HB 156.
Anti-abortion groups, individuals and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Reeder (R-Casper), described it as a harmless measure that simply gave women more information so they could consider the reproductive options.
“If you’re pro-choice, you really should be in favor of this bill,” freshman Rep. Cheri Steinmitz (R-Lingle) told one opponent of HB 156.
But many who testified said the bill was far from harmless, and placed an undue burden on women in Wyoming.
Elizabeth Hiatt described how having an abortion several years ago was the hardest decision she’s ever made in her life, and having to wait 24 hours before the procedure could be done “would have just added one more day of stress” she certainly didn’t need.
Hiatt cited research that indicated a majority of women turn down an opportunity to view an ultrasound of their fetus — not an “unborn baby,” as the bill states — and 98.6 percent of those who see the ultrasound still choose to terminate their pregnancy.
Sharon Breitweiser of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice Wyoming noted that several physicians testified ultrasounds are regularly used to help determine the health of the pregnant woman and her fetus, and the government doesn’t need to interfere with decisions that should be left up to doctors and patients.
She added that Wyoming only has one small clinic in Jackson that performs abortions, and the vast majority of women here go to other states. The expense of traveling to Jackson and the lost time if women are required to spend an extra day in the state’s most expensive city would be an undue burden on pregnant women, Breitweiser said.
Sponsor Reeder said while there is an exception in the bill for the health of the mother, “A rape or incest exception would only hide information from women in a traumatic situation.” He emphasized there would be no script required for doctors talking about the issue with patients, and they would only need to tell them they could see an ultrasound.
Donna Adler of the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne supported the bill. “It’s not forcing anyone to see something she doesn’t want to see,” she said. “This bill is good for women.”
A registered nurse, Mary Dowd, said an ultrasound would simply help women make an informed choice.
“If you oppose women’s right to fully informed consent, then you aren’t pro-choice, you’re pro-abortion,” she asserted.
Gloria Davies, director of the Life Choice Pregnancy Care Center in Cheyenne, said her organization has counseled more than 10,000 women since it opened in 1988. She claimed that “96 percent of them choose life” after receiving counseling.
Davies said one client who saw her ultrasound asked her, “Why didn’t someone tell me it was a real child in there? I had been told it was a glob of flesh.”
Rene Hinkle, an OB-GYN and co-founder of the Cheyenne Women’s Clinic, argued that putting the Wyoming Legislature between a woman and her doctor “is a very dangerous precedent.”
If the bill’s proponents really want to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, she advised, “You need to increase access to long-term, affordable, safe contraceptives.”
Hollis Hackman of the Wyoming Psychological Association in Sheridan said the role ultrasounds play in a pregnant patient’s care should be made by physicians who have had the necessary medical training, and not politicians.
After public testimony, the TRW Committee discussed the bill. Steinmetz said while some people testified the measure is unnecessary because many physicians already give patients an opportunity to see the ultrasound results, the state needs a “framework to make sure it’s being done.”
Rep. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) said he believes “every conception is precious, and every child deserves a loving family.”
“The best way to accomplish that is a matter of love, not law,” he concluded.
Steinmetz, Scott Clem (R-Gillette) and Dan Kirkbride (R-Chugwater) voted for HB 129. Voting no were Barlow, Committee Chairwoman Ruth Ann Petroff (R-Jackson), Andy Schwartz (D-Jackson), John Freeman (D-Green River), Lloyd Larson (R-Lander) and Fred Baldwin (R- Kemmerer).