RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Lithwick writes: "Under the new legislation, women who want an abortion will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. Where's the outrage?"

Virginia passed a bill requiring an ultrasound using a transvaginal probe before women may legally have an abortion. (photo: file)
Virginia passed a bill requiring an ultrasound using a transvaginal probe before women may legally have an abortion. (photo: file)

Virginia's Proposed Ultrasound Law Is an Abomination

By Dahlia Lithwick, Slate

18 February 12


Under the new legislation, women who want an abortion will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. Where's the outrage?

his week, the Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since a proposed amendment to the bill - a provision that would have had the patient consent to this bodily intrusion or allowed the physician to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound - failed on 64-34 vote, the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law.

What's more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn't "avail herself of the opportunity" to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman's medical record. Whether she wants it there or not. I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.

So the problem is not just that the woman and her physician (the core relationship protected in Roe) no longer matter at all in deciding whether an abortion is proper. It is that the physician is being commandeered by the state to perform a medically unnecessary procedure upon a woman, despite clear ethical directives to the contrary. (There is no evidence at all that the ultrasound is a medical necessity, and nobody attempted to defend it on those grounds.) As an editorial in the Virginian-Pilot put it recently, "Under any other circumstances, forcing an unwilling person to submit to a vaginal probing would be a violation beyond imagining. Requiring a doctor to commit such an act, especially when medically unnecessary, and to submit to an arbitrary waiting period, is to demand an abrogation of medical ethics, if not common decency."

Evidently the right of conscience for doctors who oppose abortion are a matter of grave national concern. The ethical and professional obligations of physicians who would merely like to perform their jobs without physically violating their own patients are, however, immaterial. Don't even bother asking whether this law would have passed had it involved physically penetrating a man instead of a woman without consent. Next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument about the obscene government overreach that is the individual mandate in President Obama's health care law. Yet physical intrusion by government into the vagina of a pregnant woman is so urgently needed that the woman herself should be forced to pay for the privilege.

The bill will undoubtedly be enacted into law by the governor, Bob McDonnell, who is gunning hard for a gig as vice president and has already indicated that he will sign the bill. "I think it gives full information," he said this week on WTOP radio's "Ask the Governor" program. "To be able to have that information before making what most people would say is a very important, serious, life-changing decision, I think is appropriate."

That's been the defense of this type of ultrasound law from the outset; it's merely "more information" for the mother, and, really, what kind of anti-science Neanderthal opposes information? Pretending that this law is just a technological update on Virginia's informed consent laws has another benefit: You can shame and violate women, while couching it in the language of Justice Anthony Kennedy's gift that keeps on giving - his opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart. That opinion upheld Congress' partial-birth abortion ban on the grounds that (although there was no real evidence to support this assumption) some women who have abortions will suffer "severe depression" and "regrets" if they aren't made to understand the implications of what they have done.

Never mind that the evidence indicates that women forced to see ultrasound images opt to terminate anyhow. According to the American Independent, a new study by Tracy Weitz, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that "viewing an ultrasound is not an indication that a woman will cancel her scheduled procedure, regardless of what emotional response the sonogram elicits." Weitz summarized her findings in 2010 when she said that "women do not have abortions because they believe the fetus is not a human or because they don't know the truth."

Of course, the bill is unconstitutional. The whole point of the new abortion bans is to force the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade. It's unconstitutional to place an "undue burden" on a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy, although it's anyone's guess what, precisely, that means. One would be inclined to suspect, however, that unwanted penetration with a medical device violates either the undue burden test or the right to bodily autonomy. But that's the other catch in this bill. Proponents seem to be of the view that once a woman has allowed a man to penetrate her body once, her right to bodily autonomy has ended.

During the floor debate on Tuesday, Del. C. Todd Gilbert announced that "in the vast majority of these cases, these [abortions] are matters of lifestyle convenience." (He has since apologized.) Virginia Democrat Del. David Englin, who opposes the bill, has said Gilbert's statement "is in line with previous Republican comments on the issue," recalling one conversation with a GOP lawmaker who told him that women had already made the decision to be "vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant." (I confirmed with Englin that this quote was accurate.)

That's the same logic that animates the bill's sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. Kathy J. Byron, who insisted this week that, "if we want to talk about invasiveness, there's nothing more invasive than the procedure that she is about to have." Decoded, that means that if you are willing to submit to sex and/or an abortion, the state should be allowed to penetrate your body as well.

I asked Del. Englin what recourse there is for the ultrasound law, and he told me that the governor, while unlikely to veto the bill, still has the power to amend it to require the patient's consent or say that physicians can opt not to do the vaginal probe. One might hope that even the benign act of giving women "more information" not be allowed to happen by forcing it between her legs. Or is that what we call it these days?

Whatever happens in the commonwealth, it's fair to say it's no accident that this week the Legislature also enacted a "personhood" law defining life as beginning at conception - a law that may someday criminalize contraception and some miscarriages as well as abortion. Today was not a good day in the War on Women. Abortion is still legal in America. Physically invading a woman's body against her will still isn't. Let's not casually pass laws that upend both principles in the name of helping women make better choices. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+72 # Bill Clements 2012-02-18 17:06
Everyone I've talked to is outraged. And those who covered this on MSNBC are clearly outraged. Amazing to me how out of touch so many in the GOP are around the issue of abortion. Clearly, this is a punitive measure designed to shame those who they believe ("the vast majority" ) are having abortions as a "lifestyle convenience." Really?

It's one thing to require a woman's consent before carrying through with such a procedure; it's another matter entirely to force it on all women without consent.

I'm sure there are a lot of women out here (and men!) who would love to have a few choice words with Del. Byron.

Of course, the hypocrisy of the GOP is breathtaking. Screaming about getting big government off their backs while trying to push through something like this?
+29 # Mbatt 2012-02-19 09:31
I totally agree with Ms. Lithwick. My husband and I have been following the Republicans' war on women since the Reagan administration, but thanks to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, the crazies are now out there for all to see how much contempt they have for women. Both in Congress and in the Virginia legislature, the anti-woman, anti-science crowd think they're on a roll. I hope they will be proven wrong on Election Day. No one of the potential Republican presidential nominees is fit for office. I've been posting commentaries about this issue for more than a year on my blog:
+14 # X Dane 2012-02-19 17:10
Mbatt, I am afraid we can NOT rely on hope alone. I am going to e-mail ALL my friends,tell them about this law, and ask them, what THEY think about it?

Many people may not know about it at all. I am constantly surprised, seeing, how little many people know about what is going on.
Some say. Oh.... I'm not interested in politics. I try to tell them, that it is not a matter of being interested in politics. It is important to KNOW what is happening, that will affect our lives.

I believe WE should ALL e-mail our friends and also talk to as many people as possible, for I think most will be as shocked and outraged, as we are.

This assault on women and women's rights must NOT be tolerated. We MUST fight back.
There are many of us here, and we CAN make a difference.
+3 # Barbara K 2012-02-20 13:01
Bill, do you or anyone know how Virginia is going to get around the Federal Health Privacy law? Not even one's spouse can get any information without consent from his/her spouse. It should trump Virginia's new crappy invasive snooping.
+1 # Bill Clements 2012-02-20 14:10
No, Barbara, I don't have anything to offer on this. Maybe someone else will weigh in?
+52 # Richard Raznikov 2012-02-18 17:27
There is a war against women these days. The only explanation I can manage is that it has become acceptable to spout sick, twisted hate-filled garbage and call it political opinion. If F*X News and Limbaugh can get away with it, and if Ann Coulter can get away with it, then suddenly it's become safe to expose one's worst impulses.

I wrote about this here:
+51 # universlman 2012-02-18 17:29
the GOP will pay a price in the next election and perhaps they will begin to understand that their government, no matter how small should still not fit in there
+31 # ER444 2012-02-19 03:16
I hope you are right.... however, I fear the good people of Virginia like in so many other states in the "deep south" are responsible for electing these twisted "conservative" politicians and wholely support this kind of archaic policy. I believe it all comes down to a rotten disfunctional education system that is breeding ignorance and selling hate and prejudice as justice and "God's will". Fundamentalism in every kind of religion breeds dogmatic thinking and is simply dangerous. The educated politicians of this country need to be communicating better with the "average Joe, or should I say "Bobby Joe". They are not getting their message accross in a language that these people understand.
+17 # X Dane 2012-02-19 16:36
ER444, The trouble is, that a lot of politicians are NOT well educated,..if at all. And the mind of many an average Joe, leaves MUCH to be desired. Have you EVER heard Lois Gomert, representative of Texas, shoot off his mouth??

I have seen and heard him on C-Span. He is a 24 carat idiot. I wondered: How on earth did he end up in congress? And then I really got scared, when I realized what imbeciles had voted him into office.
I am afraid, that we have many uneducated and truly ignorant people in congress. Gomert is far from the only person, who should never have been sent there.
I have observed quite a few, who should not even be elected to a school board, let alone the governing body of the country. It is not so strange that congress is so diss-functionin g.
+51 # Progressive Patriot 2012-02-19 07:36
The GOP _must_ pay a price ... a very heavy one.

Why would any woman even vote for a Republican?
+24 # Doctoretty 2012-02-19 08:47
I sincerely hope you are right that the GOP will pay for this. But deep down I have this sickening fear that racism and sexism will triumph in a backlash against a Pres. who has managed to make only minimal progress on the economic front. I would be so happy to be wrong about that!
+19 # Rick Levy 2012-02-18 19:43
Did any women members of the House of Delegates for this outrage? I can't seem to find any data on this issue.
+14 # MizKatz 2012-02-19 00:10
Mr. Levy... the legislation seems to be presented under a Senate Bill 484 whose chief patron was Jill Holzman Vogel(R-Winches ter). Check out

House Bill 462 - the one that seems to be referenced in this excellent report was introduced by Del. Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg) and Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Glade Hill) copatroned the bill.

Kudos to Dahlia Lithwick and Slate for reporting this.
+15 # Regina 2012-02-19 16:10
Women with R after their names may be our worst enemies. Think Michele Bachmann!!! Sarah Palin is almost lucid by comparison. Yes, there are women who are women's worst enemies, roped in by the simplistic garbage fed them by the Tea Party.
+55 # genierae 2012-02-18 19:55
Make no mistake, this is just the beginning of a concerted effort by Republicans to drag back the progress of this country to the 1950s. They are terrified of losing their white supremacist majority and this has made them act in completely irrational ways. They see women and minorities making big gains and they are desperate to roll this back. It is time for all intelligent, enlightened women to come together and push back against this madness. The women's movement must renew itself and go grassroots all over this country. If we will stand together, we will overcome! Think of the world that we will create once we sweep out these Neanderthals, and leave them behind in the dust!
+50 # Regina 2012-02-18 23:45
1950s? More like 1890s. Where is the American Medical Association on this insanity? Why are the OB-GYNs silent? Are they all Republicans? There are professional and legal standards that these crackpot pols are trashing. The slimy comments about "penetration" give these whacks away -- they are vicious, evil incarnate, and do not belong in a legislature or any other public position.
+34 # Progressive Patriot 2012-02-19 07:40
Any doctor who complies with this law should be charged with rape ... and lose his license.
+7 # genierae 2012-02-19 17:30
Alas, doctors aren't what they used to be, they have been corrupted by greed now that the medical profession is a profit-making business.
+23 # Progressive Patriot 2012-02-19 07:39
They've been trying to drag us back to the turn of the 19th Century for decades.
+45 # bluepilgrim 2012-02-18 21:26
This is part of the overall thrust to reduce all citizens to wholly owned slaves of the state, or the corporate state. Elevate corporations to personhood and demote people to mere government property, even vulnerable to indefinate detention with no legal recourse or death at the whim of the oligarchy. The goal is utter tyranny.
+26 # Jude 2012-02-19 01:26
I think you’re right, bluepilgrim. And what’s truly grotesque is the sick goosed-up pleasure they seem to get out of doing it to women.
+31 # lincolnimp 2012-02-18 23:22
I have nothing of substance to contribute...ju st too numb to think.
+7 # X Dane 2012-02-19 15:57
Hi lincolnimp, I understand. But what you CAN do, is ask your friends and aquaintanses if they have heard about this outrage. Then ask them how they FEEL about it. We, in this forum know about it, because we try to be informed, but I will bet ...(not 10.000)...that a lot of our countrymen, and women may NOT know, because it it not widely mentioned on TV. And I am SURE, they are not discussing it on FAUX, So.... lincolnimp you CAN do something. Please go for it!
+35 # grouchy 2012-02-19 01:13
Isn't forced penetration of a woman (without her consent, of course) the same as rape? If so, wouldn't it be proper to charge each and every person involved in this disgusting scheme of rape? Maybe even the lawmakers who dreamed the idea up? I wonder how long such stupidity would last after a few of these guys were sent to prison.
+7 # Regina 2012-02-19 18:52
The dingbats have already answered this one -- if a woman is pregnant, she has already been "penetrated" so their rape with an ultrasound probe doesn't matter ---!!!!! Those are the "lawmakers" who dreamed up this idea -- sorry, I've run out of descriptors for these (fill in the blanks).
+34 # X Dane 2012-02-19 02:56
I remember, when I came to America in 59, that people were incredibly repressed about anything having to do with sex, my doctor said (jokingly)that first babies were only 7 months? and 8-9 pounds!!!

Girls got married straight out of high school. Many girls were feeling like "old maids" if they were not married at 19, or at least engaged!

While the majority grew up and accepted sex as a part of life, republicans are still stuck in the 50ties and they can't stand, that women now get educated and hold positions of importance and some of considerable power.

They feel THREATENED and they realize, that the fact, that we DECIDE when or IF we will have children, give us control over our own lives.

So they are determined to push us back DOWN. Attacking women's right to abortion and contraception, is the way, to achieve their goal.

DEMANDING that a woman have an intravaginal ultra sound, before being allowed to have an abortion is practically taking us back to the days of the inquisition.

The aim is to humiliate a woman, and to make her feel dirty. And hopefully to change her mind about the abortion.
It is disgusting,and it has to be stopped. Women MUST push back and enlightened men too. I hope republicans get beaten to a pulp in November.
+18 # ozken 2012-02-19 04:23
My Quaker ancestor went to America about 30 years after the Mayflower landed - didn't like the way the Indians were treated and he returned to East Anglia. Seems that Puritan, Quaker, mindset is alive and well in America but this kind of behaviour is seriously barbaric and shows a complete lack of respect for women but also that these people are control freaks. Who do they think they are?
+12 # angelfish 2012-02-19 11:44
My Great-Grandmoth er was a Quaker and did MUCH good service in her day. The Quakers were known as The Society of Friends and were TOTALLY non-violent and preached of a loving God. The "Puritans", however, were a much more persecutory bunch, even towards their own. Read The Scarlet Letter to see what Hypocrites they were.
+26 # Susan1989 2012-02-19 07:14
Most definitely the sickest thing I have heard in a long time. I fully agree that this is an attempt to keep the white supremicists in power by making women feel powerless. Very similar to a govt. Sanctioned rape. This will in the end backfire terribly for the republicans.
+10 # mjc 2012-02-19 09:31
We can only hope, Susan. Doubt if even Ronald Reagan would recognize the Republican Party even before Alzheimer's set in
+41 # Progressive Patriot 2012-02-19 07:23
It would appear that Virginia is no longer for lovers.

Virginia is for rapists.
+29 # angelfish 2012-02-19 07:51
What's NEXT in America, Honor Killings? This Insanity has GOT to stop! I can't believe that the ReTHUGlicans are SO blind to the fact that their current attitudes towards women are MORE archaic than those of the Taliban! There USED to be men and women of Intelligence in the OLD RePublican Party but they, apparently, no longer exist. These Fools forget that women are in the Majority in this Country and will NOT be probed and violated in this way by ANY State Legislature! Hey, Virginia ReTHUGlicans! Pull your heads out of your a**holes and STOP this madness! Sisters! Make your voices HEARD on this issue! The People, UNITED, will NEVER be defeated! Judgment Day will arrive in November!
+31 # RMDC 2012-02-19 07:57
My parents live in VA so I go there sometimes and have to endure the idiocy that passes for political talk. Don't forget that current VA govenor Bob McDonald is among the top picks for Romney's VP. George "Macaca" Allen is running again for the Senate. Ken Cuccinilli is running for governor to replace McDonald when he becomes VP.

Virginia had its flirtation with political sanity but it is now recoiling in horror into the bowels of conservative hysteria. Northern VA is the home of mercenary companies, private surveillance contractors, weapons builders. Probably half the population works for the military-indust rial-complex and they will vote conservative just to keep their jobs.

The rest of the state has refused kicking and screaming to be dragged into the 20th century. On rare occasions (as in 2008), Virginia's large and largely sensible African American population and the few "liberals" around Charlottesville and the university band together to vote for sanity.

What a hell hole. But I guess it is still worse if you go farther south.
+6 # X Dane 2012-02-19 15:28
WOW! RMDC, they are more than a HUNDRED years behind time, since we are now in the 21st century??
+7 # RMDC 2012-02-19 19:15
Yes, more than 100 years. Take a look at Eric Cantor and you'll see what I mean. He does not seem to know what century he is in. He only believes in the privileges of his class, or the class he is the servant of/.
+4 # X Dane 2012-02-19 20:38
I agree, RMDC. Eric Cantor is a nasty SOB.
While I am no fan of the orange man, Boehner, I think, he wanted to work out a deal with Obama during the Debt Ceiling debacle, but Cantor was not going to let him.
I am sure he wanted to push Boehner out and take over. He is so ambitious, and he has no intention of hiding it. Since you are somewhat familiar with Virginia, are there no democrat, who could run against him.....and beat him?

Cantor and Ryan of Wisconsin? are a couple of mean guys. They are out to kill off BOTH grandma and grandpa. They will cut as much as possible, for older people and education, and social security. But........the tax cut for the wealthiest. DON'T touch it !!
+27 # Progressive Patriot 2012-02-19 07:59
No women that I know who have had abortions have any regrets about doing it. They are not suffering from depression over it.
+13 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-02-19 09:18
I note that Engelin’s argument also validates involuntary daisy-chain sex: If you’ve done it with one, anyone who wants you is next: line forms to the right...& they let this fellow into government?
+13 # mjc 2012-02-19 09:29
Talk about the government interfering with our private life, guess the Republicans believe that it is okay if it helps produce and maintain a medieval attitude about women in the population under consideration.
+22 # lilpat126 2012-02-19 10:20
Women talk to your granddaughters, great grand daughters, and daughters. Tell them about how hard we women have worked to give them what they have. Mine were totally shocked that we did not have access to birth control. Unfortunately I got the "joke" about aspirin the other day. It is an old one and unfortunately there were some girls who used them vaginally. Along with Coke douches, Lysol douches, and guys using Saran wrap because he was too embarrassed to ask for condoms at the drug store. There were girls who caused chemical burns to their vaginas and cervices trying to prevent pregnancy. We were not educated by our mothers or schools about our anatomy or the functioning of it. My girls had the correct education correctly taught in "Family Living". It was a hoot to hear 8&9 years old talk about having a
uterus. We never even knew what one was much less we had one and it was up to us to take care of it. I don't think men should be allowed to take Viagra or any thing for Erectile dysfunction without a rectal to check for prostate cancer. I am sure there are other reasons that one should be done on a regular basis. Besides they should only be taken for procreation not recreation sex.
I survived the 50's and don't want to go back to them.
+7 # WFO 2012-02-19 10:44
TSA gropes elderly and children (and everyone else)with their hands up in submission - penetration would up the humiliation to an even more submissive level - just like the government intent of this legislation.
+16 # Regina 2012-02-19 16:19
This is not "government intent" -- it's ultra-right wing insanity.
Keep in mind the ugly fact that the Repubs screaming against "Sharia Law" are also screaming to get their perversion of it enacted. What comes after the "trans-vaginal ultrasound" -- virginity tests???
+9 # Richard Raznikov 2012-02-19 11:57
Evidently, I'm still angry. See "Just Lie Back And Enjoy It":
+11 # jwb110 2012-02-19 12:08
It's the South. What do you expect?
+12 # 1984 2012-02-19 14:11
These things make me so sick, I want to vomit. I really have to swear off the news, any news. I wish I were younger so I could move out of this sickening country.
+8 # Terrapin 2012-02-19 14:17
... and WHO votes for these REPUBLICAN swines? And did y'all expect anything different, Virgina? Praise be Jesus ...
+8 # Jesus Follower 2012-02-19 18:52
Quoting Terrapin:
... and WHO votes for these REPUBLICAN swines? And did y'all expect anything different, Virgina? Praise be Jesus ...

Perhaps the state should change its name to Vaginia, in view of where their interests seem to lie.
+1 # KittatinyHawk 2012-02-19 22:21
Sorry I am not reading post or article...but a side line..Virginia the State of Love believes that you are an abomination to have an ultra sound but to be raped is OKAY?
Virginia okays child molestation, adult rape of either sex as long as you do not have an utra sound?
Can you have your blood work done safely to prove who is daddy? Just in case Santorum or Mitt is around I want to know
No less half the GOP troweling the subways, Boy sure is easier to be a GOP/TP Wife than a Gay or Real Woman....Glad I am not a born again or some other hypocritical closet queen or worse.

I guess Tuesday not only will your hypocritical employer get away with giving you benefits you work for but now you will be tested for gay or hetero, I could go on but women wake up. Do you really like being beaten up? Does your Religion really have the right to tell you Jesus sanctioned any mistreatment of women? If we are fighting for women rights in other countries do you not have any rights in the USA Turn off the Country Station, turn off GOP News, Turn off anyone who thinks you are not a Person.
If a baby is a person at conception...Wh at are You ???? Yes What are you??? I know who I am, I know what Creator created, I know Said No Adultery, No Killing....I Believe every person who is beaten is being Killed... Time you walk away, time you remember that
+7 # bakerhunny 2012-02-19 22:30
This is disgusting! So a 12 year old gets raped....and then has to undergo this "invasion" to get an abortion. But...I guess if Rick Santorum has his way, the 12 year old will just have to make the best of a bad situation.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.