Virginia is about to become the eighth state to mandate that a woman submit to an ultrasound as a prerequisite for getting an abortion. The bill has made its way through the Republican controlled Virginia legislature and is expected to reach the governor’s desk next week. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell has said that he supports the bill and will sign it.
But this bill is a little different than the laws enacted in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The Virginia law specifies that a woman submit to a trans-vaginal ultrasound; a procedure in which a probe is inserted into the vagina and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. The argument is that while the trans-vaginal ultrasound is invasive, uncomfortable and often painful it produces an image that cannot be produced by an external ultrasound during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy…the period when most abortions occur.
Opponents of the bill are outraged. They argue that mandating a woman undergo this invasive and medically unnecessary procedure is tantamount to rape. The National Organization for Women has stated flatly that they will fight the law in court on that very basis.
Proponents of the bill are equally passionate in arguing their position. One legislator could not understand the controversy saying that woman seeking abortion already underwent a trans-vaginal procedure in order to get pregnant. Another spokesperson, this one from the Tea Party, said that once a woman lost her virginity she gave up the right to decide what was inserted in her vagina for the rest of her life.
Seriously! You cannot make this stuff up.
Setting aside all the inflammatory language there are two major points that need to be addressed.
The first is that the Virginia bill is just another in a series of attempts by the Republican Party to legislate women’s reproductive rights. The Republicans have been trying to overturn a woman’s legal right to choose since they took over control of the House in 2010. The first House Bill, HR-1, was an anti-abortion bill and Republicans have proposed a steady stream of similar bills over the past two years. There are currently 27 anti-abortion bills pending in Congress today.
The Republicans have taken their anti-abortion crusade to the state level as well. 39 anti-abortion bills passed various state legislatures in 2010 alone. Pennsylvania is a good example. The Pennsylvania Republican legislature is preparing its version of the Virginia bill using much the same language. In the ten years prior to the Republicans gaining control of the Pennsylvania government their legislators proffered 19 anti-abortion bills. After gaining control in 2010 Pennsylvania legislators proffered 34 such bills in 2010 alone.
The second aspect is that all of these Republican attempts to legislate women’s reproductive rights are in direct contrast to their small government ideology. We hear Republicans constantly complain about the President’s Affordable Care Act and its mandate that all citizens carry health insurance. Republicans see this mandate as an unconstitutional intrusion on our liberties…just another example of big government interfering in our lives. Every Republican presidential candidate has vowed to repeal “Obamacare” if elected. But yet they turn right around and pass legislation on the state level that mandates that a woman submit to an unnecessary medical procedure before receiving a legal medical procedure. Can there be anything more intrusive than the government’s mandating a woman undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound?
This Republican obsession with social issues has been ongoing since they took control of the House in 2010. It has become an integral part of our daily dialogue with the advent of the election season. The Republican focus on abortion has now expanded into debates over contraception, freedom of religion, a woman’s place in the home and in the workplace. It has allowed someone like Rick Santorum, whose entire career has been focused on anti-gay, anti-abortion social issues to become a credible candidate in the eyes of the conservative movement.
From our prospective we believe that this focus on social issues is merely a distraction. Republicans have no substantive answer on how to fix the economy or how to grow jobs…unless you consider eliminating protective regulations, reducing taxes for the rich and getting the hell out of the way a “plan.” And so they gin up the base by focusing on social issues that were decided decades ago.
Republicans are fond of saying that they want to reduce government to a size small enough to drown it in a bathtub. Mandating the use of vaginal probes doesn’t seem to fall within that definition.