Utah’s six female senators — Republican and Democratic — left the chamber in protest Tuesday, refusing to vote on a bill that requires women to undergo an ultrasound and be presented with video and audio of their developing fetus before terminating a pregnancy.
Spanish Fork Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson successfully amended the bill to prohibit the use of transvaginal ultrasounds under the bill, a more invasive procedure than transabdominal ultrasounds. But while the bill went too far before the amendment, she said, the amendment resulted in the bill going “a little less too far.”
Henderson and the other female senators, which included one other Republican, spoke in favor of the amendment and then exited the chamber as their names were called for a final vote on the bill, HB364.
“It wasn’t planned, but a spontaneous decision to put an exclamation mark on our concerns about the invasive nature of that bill,” Henderson said. “I am very pro-life, and always vote for pro-life bills. But I’m concerned that we are overstepping with government mandates of medically unnecessary procedures.”
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, tweeted out, “Love my sisters in the Senate,” alongside an image of the six women hugging.
The male members of the Senate voted 16-7 in favor of the bill, with five Republicans joining the male members of the minority party in opposing the legislation.
Members of the House voted 47-20 for the bill last week, but an additional vote of that chamber is required to approve Henderson’s amendment and other changes adopted in the Senate.
Provo Republican Sen. Curt Bramble, the Senate sponsor of HB364, said the proposal is about informed consent and intended to give parents the most accurate medical information available as they decide whether to have an abortion.
“We’re talking about a human being,” Bramble said, “and having the information relative to that child’s physical being is important as that decision to terminate that child’s life is being made.”
But other senators argued that the bill would invite costly litigation against the state, and objected to the state government mandating that patients undergo specific medical procedures.
“I’m just not convinced that we need this extra step,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.
On Monday, three medical organizations asked Gov. Gary Herbert to veto the proposed ultrasound mandate, saying it would force them to violate their professional standards.
“There is no other health-related scenario in which the government dictates medical interventions,” wrote representatives of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the Utah section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The joint letter said the mandate would be medically unnecessary and would start the state down a “slippery slope that could lead to government mandating routine medical care.”
The Utah Medical Association adopted a neutral position.
Asked Tuesday about the ultrasound bill, Herbert seemed disinclined to exercise his power of veto.
“Under the umbrella of full disclosure, making sure that you’re making the decision based on all the information available … that’s probably not a bad thing,” the Republican governor said.
Before leaving the Senate chamber, Draper Democratic Sen. Kathleen Riebe compared an abortion to a vasectomy, and questioned why women are required to complete information modules and ultrasounds when a man is under no comparable mandate.
"Does he have to watch a movie about babies? Riebe said. “No, he decided that he didn’t want babies and he got a vasectomy.”
And Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said it was sad that the female members of the chamber felt the need to speak about their personal medical history in debate with their male counterparts.
“It makes me sad that you don’t believe us that this is invasive to us,” she said.
HB364 is one of several abortion-related bills under consideration this year.
One bill, requiring that fetal remains be buried or cremated after an abortion or miscarriage, has already passed and is awaiting consideration by Hebert. Another piece of legislation would impose a ban on elective abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its longstanding precedents on abortion.
Tribune reporter Bethany Rodgers contributed to this story.