How we won in Idaho: The story of how Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest beat back the mandatory ultrasound bill
By Sara Kiesler, Communications Specialist, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest
The Idaho state legislature is known as one of the most conservative in the country, with numerous laws on the books that attack women’s health, including a 20-week ban on abortion passed in 2011. Only 21 of our 105 legislators are pro-choice. We knew going into the 2012 legislature we would be playing defense. The reality is that in the conservative Idaho legislative session we have to fight to even get meetings with certain legislators, and we have a difficult time finding more than 20 or 30 supporters and community members to attend hearings and events.
But this year was different.
In the last couple days of the legislative session, we succeeded in stopping two anti-choice bills — one that would have allowed any employer to deny birth control coverage for women for any reason, and another that would have mandated ultrasounds prior to any abortion. But we changed the face of our work in the State House.
The story about our success in Idaho begins with a plan to capitalize on the national debate and dialogue over anti-choice members of the U.S. Congress and Republican presidential candidates’ extreme positions on women’s health.
From the beginning, we knew we needed to reach out to supporters in the field, and use the media to fan the flames of a national public outcry that bubbled over into Idaho (via Virginia). Our coordinated campaign included volunteer phone banks from October through the end of the session, and over 30,000 calls and several mail pieces sent to our target legislative districts. We organized over 23 events around the state, including a successful lobby day, and massive turnout at hearings, rallies, and vigils, with hundreds of supporters in attendance. The testimony at some of these hearings was so powerful that even the national media began to take notice. The country began to realize that the Idaho legislature was going too far.
Things began to shift in our favor during the Senate floor debate on an ultrasound bill that resulted in a 23-12 vote in favor of the legislation. State Senator Chuck Winder, sponsor of the bill, said in response to criticism that the proposed legislation did not include a rape exception:
“Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy cause by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”
That remark resulted in a media firestorm not just here in Idaho, but in news outlets across the country. We knew there was power in pushing this story out to a broader audience, and connected with national feminist blogs who were sympathetic to the cause. We also worked with local reporters to send regular on-the-ground and timely updates. The goal was to shed light on the reality of the situation in the same way that Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound was depicted by the national media with their intrusive mandatory ultrasound bill. Our packed events on the ground combined with a robust media strategy brought attention to what was transpiring in our state. Stories were published in Jezebel, Huffington Post, and even Ed Schultz on MSNBC began to talk about it.
After the national media spotlight turned to Idaho, and after the anti-choice groups staged an ultrasound “demonstration” (read circus!) in the State House, the House Republicans cancelled the hearing scheduled by the House State Affairs Committee. After days of waiting to learn the final fate of the bill, on Tuesday morning the chair of the committee announced the bill was dead and said, “The big problem that’s been identified is the mandatory ultrasound.”
We couldn’t agree more!