It still isn’t completely clear how the Idaho for ultrasound bill went from a sure thing to totally toxic in just a matter of a week. Some say that the Governor, Republican Butch Otter, may have indicated that he would veto the proposal, making the House less inclined to bother with the public battle. Others have surmised that legislators were told to step down because of they might be endangering the entire party’s reelection hopes.
But there is a third theory that seems to make quite a bit of sense when taken in conjunction with actions happening not just in Idaho, but across the country.
Women turned on the bill.
Before word got out last week that the bill would likely not be getting the hearing necessary for it to proceed to a vote, House members were allegedly being queried on their support of the bill. And many indicated they’d begun to feel uncomfortable with it based on feedback from female constituents. According to the Idaho Statesman Recorder, “Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls,… said he sent out 15 emails to Republican women from his region on Wednesday, to which 12 replied. Only one supported the bill, he said.”
Republican women House members felt the same anxiety. “A half-dozen members of State Affairs expressed concern in the private setting, including reliable conservatives such as Reps. Kathy Sims of Coeur d’Alene,” the paper reports.
It wasn’t just some Republican female House members who decided to balk against supporting the bill. Some of the male Representatives also became less enthused after hearing their own wives speak out against the bill. Rep. Max Black, who served on the House committee told the Statesman Recorder that for the first time in his two decades in office, his wife actually commented on a bill. “By darn, she talked to me about this. She said, ‘I don’t understand how the Legislature thinks it can do this to women.’ ”
This isn’t the first time that Idaho Republicans have pushed women too far. Reporter Dan Popkey explains how the same sort of occurrence happened in the 90’s, when the GOP attempted to ban almost all abortion, and felt a backlash from most of the state, especially Republican women. As a result, many GOP legislators were voted out in the next election.
“Idaho Republican women sent the men running their party a message: Democrat Andrus was re-elected with 68 percent of the vote; his party won a 21-21 tie in the Senate; and Larry LaRocco became the first Democrat to capture the 1st Congressional District in 26 years.”
What happened in Idaho is a much more open and obvious version of what is occurring across the country — Republicans losing their own supporters, especially women, because of their virulent anti-women policies. The most recent polling from Virginia has Governor Bob McDonnell’s approval among female voters taking a five-point dive since he approved the state’s mandatory ultrasound bill. Retiring Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is now vocally criticizing Republican Governor Rick Perry over his war against Planned Parenthood, which is resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in health care services for poor women in the state. And one New York Republican representative, speaking at a rally for the Equal Rights Amendment, is actively telling women of both parties not to donate money to any Republican because they are not acting in the best interests of women.
Still, it’s important to remember that if it is a women’s uprising, it’s an uprising still in its early stages. The Idaho ultrasound bill isn’t dead yet, and it could be revived this week so that conservatives heading into primaries will have something to “give” their conservative base to in order to make up for all of the fuss. And nationally, more Republicans, especially women, may be ready to block legislation, but on the whole they don’t seem entirely comfortable about speaking out against their own party’s anti-women agenda.
It may be starting, but its only just beginning.