CHEYENNE — Legislation that would make it a felony to sell tissue from an aborted fetus and would require that a physician offer an ultrasound to a patient before an abortion passed a Senate committee Thursday.
The five Republican men on the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources passed each measure by a 4-1 vote, with Sen. Fred Emerich, R-Cheyenne, voting against the legislation.
Supporting the bills were Sens. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, Paul Barnard, R-Evanston, Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, and Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie.
The measures now proceed to the Senate floor. They have already passed the House.
Under House Bill 116, anyone who sells, transfers or gives cells or tissue of an aborted fetus would face felony criminal charges.
There was no discussion before lawmakers voted, although legislators did challenge some of the bill opponents as they testified.
HB182 would require doctors to offer women an ultrasound before an abortion, and to hear a fetus’ heartbeat if possible.
The bill was amended on the urging of Meier to provide exceptions to the ultrasound offer in times of medical emergency, such as to preserve the life of the woman or to remove a dead fetus. Similar exemptions existed in an original version of the bill but were removed in the House by lawmakers who disagreed with them, Meier said.
“I think it would give some comfort to some of the people who feel some exclusions are necessary,” he said.
The votes followed an intense discussion Thursday, featuring testimony from both sides of the abortion issue.
People who supported the legislation said fetuses were unborn children with rights to life, while opponents said the measures represented unnecessary government interference on women’s rights.
Hicks, the committee’s chairman, started the meeting with a reminder to be civil.
“We’re going to have some disagreements here today, folks, but we are not going to be disagreeable,” he said. “Any person who violates the rules of decorum of this committee will be asked to leave. We have uniformed troopers who will escort you to the door.”
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Supporters of the legislation included Cheyenne resident Peter Seckle and his wife, who aborted their two children in 1987 and still grieve the loss. He said he supported the bills because he believes they will help protect the sanctity of life.
“Their lives were cut short because of two scared kids — myself and her,” he said. “I’m not blaming anybody, but it was difficult. It always has been and always will be.”
Lisa Provance of Right to Life of Laramie County said that with the advent of ultrasound technology, women can see that the fetus “isn’t just a clump of cells but a living, developing human being.”
“The child in her body is a human being, with a right of their own,” she said.
Sheila Bush of the Wyoming Medical Society, which represents physicians and physician assistants, said doctors already inform their patients of medical options, a process called informed consent. The doctors’ group, which Bush described as conservative, opposed the bills, not necessarily because the group’s members support abortion but because of the message the bills send.
“Much of what these bills speak to is already done,” she said. “I think the Legislature potentially sends a dangerous and offensive message to an already fragile community.”
Heather Muth of Cheyenne spoke in opposition to HB116. She encouraged lawmakers to research how fetal tissue was used.
“The underlying purpose of this bill is to take away a woman’s right to choose, or at least that’s how I feel about it,” she said.
A number of opponents testified that they didn’t approve of how the bill was assigned to the ag committee, instead of Labor, Health and Social Services, where such legislation normally is vetted.
“I share your disappointment of the placement of this bill,” Hicks said.
Sen. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, pointed to HB116’s spokeswoman, Rep. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle.
“I know you’re disappointed there are no females on this committee, but the sponsor of this bill is female,” he said.
The primary sponsor of HB182 is Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.