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Women in Senate walk out in protest of passage of Utah mandatory ultrasound bill

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A screenshot shows a tweet by Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, after women in the Utah Senate walked out in protest of passage of a mandatory ultrasound bill on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.


SALT LAKE CITY — Senate lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that would require doctors to show a woman her ultrasound before performing an abortion — a move that prompted all of the women senators to walk off the floor instead of voting and five Republicans to break from their party to vote against the bill.

Passage of HB364 was 16-7, so the outcome would have been the same even if the six women serving in the Senate had voted against the legislation.

The debate was emotionally charged, with the women standing up to cite personal experiences regarding the invasiveness of requiring a medical procedure, and others affirming their pro-life stance but saying this bill goes too far.

“The six Republican and Democratic women of the Senate decided to walk out in protest. It wasn’t planned, but a spontaneous decision to put an exclamation mark on our concerns regarding the invasive nature of the bill,” Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said in a statement.

Henderson went to say she’s pro-life and will always vote for pro-life bills, yet she’s concerned “we are overstepping with government mandates of medically unnecessary procedures.”

In a tweet following the vote, Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, called the walkout “a spontaneous decision not planned of sisterhood.”

HB364 would require a medical provider to describe or show the images produced in the ultrasound to a woman before she receives an abortion and, if possible, amplify the fetal heartbeat so it is audible.

Senate sponsor Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, said the woman could choose to look away from the images or not listen to the heartbeat if she wished.

“If you are going to take the life of a child, if you are willing to terminate that life through an abortion, it seems appropriate that you get the best information about the development, the stage of development, heart beat — we are talking about a human being,” Bramble said.

Currently, women do get an ultrasound before getting an abortion in order to determine the age of the fetus, however, providers aren’t required to show the image to them.

If a doctor fails to give an ultrasound prior to an abortion they could be subject under the bill to a fine up to $100,000 on the first instance, which would be more than doubled on a second offense to $250,000.

Henderson introduced an amendment to explicitly prohibit providers from administering a transvaginal ultrasound to meet the requirement.

“Maybe not everybody in this room understands how invasive and problematic it can be to have to have a transvaginal ultrasound,” Henderson said. “They are incredibly invasive, they are incredibly embarrassing, they are certainly not anything that the government should ever be in any way shape or form be mandating.”

Without the amendment this “for sure goes too far,” and with it, it “goes a little less too far,” Henderson said.

A string of women — Republican and Democrat — stood to affirm this, pointing to numerous emails they’ve received from constituents also concerned by the possibility that a provider could order a transvaginal ultrasound because the bill doesn’t expressly prohibit it.

“It makes me sad when women have to stand and expose their life stories. It makes me sad that you don’t believe us that this is invasive to us,” said Senate Minority Leader Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City. “Why do we have to explain to you why this is not right? Why?”

The bill was amended to meet those concerns. However, others like Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, questioned whether the legislation would bring a constitutional challenge and cost the state expensive litigation.

“I’m not sure that the Supreme Court challenge is worth the effort,” Weiler said, suggesting that instead why not add information to the module women are already required to watch rather than risk litigation and force women to undergo a medical procedure.

“Nothing is more powerful than seeing what is happening to your own baby. It’s not the same as watching an informed consent video of the development abstractly,” Bramble said in response to the suggestion.

As the bill was amended, it will go back to the House for final approval.