While many were enjoying the President's Day long weekend, 19-year-old Nicole Skinner and a group of students from the University of Idaho drove about seven hours in the snow to the state's capitol in Boise. The students, who belong to the school's Planned Parenthood-affiliated group Generation Action, were there to meet with several lawmakers to discuss comprehensive sex education and a bill allowing women to receive up to a year-supply of prescribed birth control.
One of them was supposed to be state Sen. Dan Foreman, but he cancelled their 9 a.m. meeting because he refuses to meet with groups associated to Planned Parenthood, Skinner told Refinery29. A few hours later, the group, mainly made up by women according to Skinner, crossed paths with Foreman in a Capitol hallway. There, the state senator began berating the students.
"Abortion is murder. I stand against it. I’m a Roman Catholic and a conservative Republican. I think what you guys are doing stinks," Foreman told the students in a now-viral video posted by Skinner.
The incident made Skinner and her peers scared that he would physically lash out, particularly because last fall the freshman lawmaker was seen in a confrontation with an unseen man, which Foreman called a "liberal nuttard."
"He was verbally abusing us and telling us that he would call the police on us if we ever entered his office," she said. (Foreman, who is now facing an ethics complaint in the wake of the incident, didn't respond to Refinery29's request for comment. But he told the Associated Press that he was not sorry for his behavior.)
Idaho is one of the states with the most restrictions when it comes to access to reproductive healthcare and Foreman is severely anti-choice. In early 2017, for example, he introduced a bill that would charge women undergoing abortions and doctors who performed the procedure with first-degree murder.
For Emily Carter, president of Generation Action, meeting with representatives is a "duty," since their group offers them a platform to speak up.
"I know there are sometimes extenuating circumstances, so for those of us that have the ability to speak out about issues, especially reproductive rights, it is on us to do so," she told Refinery29. "Young people are the future. We are in college to help develop society once we get a job [and] we will be running the country one day. It is never too early to start communicating with the people that were voted into office to ensure that your voice is heard."
She continued, "A lot of our legislature doesn't agree with Planned Parenthood. But for our group, we feel that if we want [the] 12 months' [supply] of birth control [bill] to get passed, we need to do everything in our power to make that happen. There are women living in rural Idaho who have to go every single month to refill their birth control and this can result in missed pills and unwanted pregnancy. We are standing up for those women and it is our job to do so."
Creating change in the Idaho State Legislature is one of the reasons students hoped they could talk with someone such as Foreman, who is on the other side of the political aisle. Skinner said the group met with several other representatives who are not pro-choice and who respectfully had a discussion with them. "We knew where he stood on the issues, we didn’t expect for him to change his mind," she said. "Other senators were completely understanding and kind."
Skinner said the two things Generation Action wanted to lobby for — the birth control bill and comprehensive sex education — could greatly enhance healthcare in the state. And because she believes that access to reproductive care is important, the incident is not scaring her away and she's determined to keep pushing for a conversation.
"We're definitely gonna keep trying to reach out [to him]. We're his constituents. We help pay his salary, pay for his office," Skinner said. "It's important that constituents keep making an effort to make their voices heard. It’s disheartening what happened. You like to think that the process would be much more democratic and your voice would be more represented."
She added, "There's a lot of value in having healthy discourse and having conversations with people you might disagree with. This issue is a lot bigger than Dan Foreman. ... There's a lot of representatives, across the political spectrum, who completely disregard their constituents who don't always have the same opinion as them. I hope that this whole situation starts a bigger conversation."