Government-Mandated Rape in Virginia

That’s what forced transvaginal ultrasounds are, and that’s what the law recently passed in Virginia does, as Tobias Barrington Wolff powerfully describes in a HuffPost piece about the Republican war on women (emphasis mine):

The Virginia legislature has passed a bill that will force women seeking an abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound. The mandated procedure requires that a woman’s vagina be distended with a speculum and that a probe be inserted into the vagina and manipulated around so as to produce a high-resolution picture of the uterus and surrounding organs — once again, for no medically sound reason. Governor Bob McDonnell has said that he will sign the bill. As part of the same package, the legislature also enacted a “personhood” law that would define life to begin at the stage of a fertilized egg, even before implantation, and hence would outlaw many forms of contraception and all abortions.

The Republican Party of Virginia showed no apparent irony in enacting this vaginal invasion bill on Valentine’s Day. This, apparently, is what was on their minds.

I am a man who believes in coalition politics. The strength of a people is measured not solely by their ability to advance their own interests but also by their success in joining with allied communities in mutual support and solidarity. We become better people and more effective advocates when we show up for other people’s issues. My strong support for the rights of women is an expression of that philosophy.

This Virginia legislation, however, is not a matter of coalition politics. Every person who has a body should view this law as a direct assault. So, too, should every person who believes that women are human beings.

Take a moment. Try to envision the mindset of a legislator who would enact a bill the sole purpose of which is to mandate the forcible, medically unnecessary invasion of a woman’s vagina as the price — the attempt at forced shame — for terminating a pregnancy. Whatever a person’s views on abortion might be, this is an assault of a different order. It is one thing to believe that abortion should be restricted; it is quite another to use the law to impose humiliation and invasion upon women who seek out the procedure. A person cannot enact such a law without embracing a willful disregard for the personhood and dignity of all women.

The aforementioned “personhood” law that Virginia is also considering just deepens the irony. A fertilized egg is a person but a woman is not.

At least three other states — Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida — have passed identical laws mandating rape by speculum. In the case of Texas, an effort to block enforcement of the law pending appeal failed (via Shakesville) when a three-judge panel at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a lower court’s decision blocking enforcement (emphasis mine):

The decision reversed an August finding, by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, that the new law violated the First Amendment by improperly requiring doctors and patients to engage in government-mandated speech.

But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the sonogram law fell within well-established guidelines that allow states to regulate the practice of medicine in ways that do not place an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion.

Think about that one for a moment. A law that forces doctors to subject a woman to a medically unnecessary ultrasound by penetrating her vagina with a metal speculum, and then forcing her to hear a description of the images on the screen (women can refuse to look at the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat but they may not refuse to listen to the doctor describing the image) does not “place an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion.” Being forcibly raped (see the FBI’s definition of rape, here) as a condition of having a legal abortion does NOT unduly burden a woman’s decision to have an abortion.


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