Lady of the Hour: Janet Howell

Since anti-choice legislators are forcing women to undergo invasive and unnecessary ultrasounds before obtaining abortions — yes, that is a legal requirement that women be vaginally penetrated for no medical purpose other than to humiliate and emotionally manipulate them — Virginia State Senator Janet Howell has decided that maybe men should also be subjected to some less-than-necessary medical examinations for the privilege of being sexual creatures:

To protest a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) on Monday attached an amendment that would require men to have a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication.

“We need some gender equity here,” she told HuffPost. “The Virginia senate is about to pass a bill that will require a woman to have totally unnecessary medical procedure at their cost and inconvenience. If we’re going to do that to women, why not do that to men?”

Her amendment didn’t pass, but good on her.

Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that men should have to undergo rectal exams and cardiac stress tests before getting Viagra. I think that’s silly and wasteful and unnecessary and invasive. But I also think that women’s health is so routinely politicized, and is so widely accepted as something that it’s ok to politicize, that turning the tables might make men think a little bit harder about these issues. Right-wing politicians have positioned reproductive rights as about abortion and babies, not as what they really are: Fundamentally tied to the body. Laws like this force that conversation; they force politicians to explain why a procedure tied to female reproduction should included legally-mandated penetration and shame, while male reproduction gets a smile and a prescription.

Hey and who knows, if bills like this pass around the country, maybe the uptick in rectal exams will result in doctors suddenly locating the heads of most of the Republican party.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Gender, Health, Reproductive Rights and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Lady of the Hour: Janet Howell

  1. jrockford says:

    If you peel back the layers, I’m sure you’ll find the powerful proctologists lobby at the bottom of this!

    But seriously, cool. Not that I’d want any form of unnecessary invasive procedure thrust upon me, but these ultrasound bills are so transparently intended to shame that the people furthering them really do need to be exposed to the flipside of the issue.

  2. Ledasmom says:

    jrockford, I am ever so slightly disappointed that you did not say “exposed to the backside of the issue.”

  3. Matt says:

    powerful proctologists at the bottom and procedures thrust upon him though. 2/3. Good score.

    I saw this on Anne Rice’s facebook page today and I was like, I bet I’ll see this on Feministe too. Did not disappoint.

    Howell is pretty awesome.

  4. j. says:

    I’m sure you’ll find the powerful proctologists lobby at the bottom of this!

    As for their plans, hopefully, Howell’s suggestion will have wrecked ’em.

  5. firelizard19 says:

    Wait- an ultrasound requires penetration? I’ll take your word on this one, but if that’s true we need a much stronger protest! I thought it was like on tv, where they put gel on your stomach and then press the ultrasound thing against it.

    No one should have anything penetrate their body because of a law, basically without their consent. Maybe I’m being alarmist, but that’s just too close to rape.

  6. Kristen J. says:

    As someone who recently had to undergo a TV ultrasound its sometimes very, very uncomfortable (and chilly).

  7. Lolagirl says:

    Transabdominal ultrasounds are notoriously unreliable in early pregnancy, especially if the woman has a tilted uterus. After the first trimester as the uterus rises out of the pelvis and the embryo/fetus becomes larger it is much easier to properly view the pregnancy transabdominally via ultrasound. As a result, most OBs will use a transvaginal ultrasound in the first trimester whenever possible.

  8. Emolee says:

    This reminds me of the Texas Representative (a woman, a Houston Democrat) who brought a transvaginal ultrasound wand onto the House floor during a debate over one of these anti-abortion laws in Texas. She tried to make the point of how invasive this law would be. Unfortunately, the law passed.

  9. jillian says:

    has anyone writing these laws actually even talked to abortion providers? ultrasounds are routinely done ALREADY before an abortion to determine age of gestational and if it’s a singleton or multiple pregnancy! you know, as a medically recognised diagnostic tool!

    i swear, the need for these laws – like the no-fetus-food bill – are wastes of time that make doctors look like hacks. im not, not licking toads! there’s no “law” saying that it must be done, so obviously it’s not! there’s no law about fetal bits getting into the food supply so do you really know where those mcnuggets came from? the stupidity burns! ARGH!

  10. This reminds me of how certain insurance companies will not cover birth control, but will cover Viagra.

  11. DouglasG says:

    Good for State Seantor Howell! This sort of thing does sometimes stick in someone’s thought process.

    I suppose it ties in loosely to Ms Jill’s final sentence to say that I blame the Doles for making the PGA Tour unwatchable. They started it all. But at least in the matter of ED the presumption of heteroexclusivity (well, we don’t see any M/M couples in those commercials, do we?) becomes rather less irksome than it is elsewhere.

  12. Katya says:

    The fact that OB-GYNS often use TV ultrasounds to determine gestational age before performing an abortion just makes it so clear that these laws are not about providing quality medical care, but about making sure that it is as painful, expensive, and humiliating as possible for a woman to get an abortion. Doctors use them because they are useful medical tools. These legislatures want to use them because they think women who get abortions are stupid sluts.

  13. Kierra says:

    Since anti-choice legislators are forcing women to undergo invasive and unnecessary ultrasounds before obtaining abortions — yes, that is a legal requirement that women be vaginally penetrated for no medical purpose other than to humiliate and emotionally manipulate them

    Not that I agree with the legislation, but don’t doctors already require that a patient undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion anyway? I was under the impression that this is necessary to determine fetal age for the purposes of knowing what procedure can be used (such as whether using RU-486 is feasible). Isn’t the issue that these bills usually require that the woman actually watch the ultrasound or listen to a heartbeat or hear some scripted pro-life statement or wait some arbitrary length of time before the abortion or that a doctor do the ultrasound rather than a tech? And that those things have no medical purpose and are just for shaming (and also the fact that they feel the need to legislate something that doctors were doing already anyway as if the evil abortion doctors couldn’t possibly have been doing things “properly” otherwise women wouldn’t actually want to abort their babies).

    I mean, I see your point that the legislation is stupid. But I kind of have a problem with framing it as if the woman wouldn’t be getting the ultrasound anyway and that legislating that it’s required is thus forcing an ultrasound on her. Because it isn’t.

  14. Virginians can urge their state Senators to vote no on this mandatory ultrasound bill here!

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  16. Emolee says:

    @Kierra, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know if ultrasounds are always performed before abortions or not. But to me (at least one of ) the issues is that it should be a medical decision whether or not to do an ultrasound (even if it is done every time) and not a legislative one. Especially because the legislation is not medically based (it is not ‘we need to make doctors do this for the health of the patient’) but is based in shame, guilt, and trying to get women to stay pregnant. And you are right, it usually does involve forcing the woman to look at the ultrasound and/or listen to the heartbeat, both of which are completely medically unnecessary.

  17. Kierra says:

    But to me (at least one of ) the issues is that it should be a medical decision whether or not to do an ultrasound (even if it is done every time) and not a legislative one.

    I totally agree with that. But I don’t think it strengthens the argument to also claim that a medical procedure is being forced on women when it’s one they could reasonably expect to have to undergo if they want an abortion even if such legislation didn’t exist.

    Especially because the legislation is not medically based (it is not ‘we need to make doctors do this for the health of the patient’)

    Except that “health of the patient” is the stated reason for the legislation. You’re not going to win that argument by trying to say that ultrasounds aren’t needed before an abortion. You win that argument by saying that it’s not your politician’s job to decide what medical procedures you need to have done.

  18. Emolee says:

    it’s not your politician’s job to decide what medical procedures you need to have done.

    This was my exact point. It should be the doctor’s decision with the patient’s informed consent. Even if ultrasounds are always or almosty always done (and I don’t know if they are), it still should not be mandated by lawmakers.

    Also, the stated reason for legislation is not always the same as the actual reason (and I do not know the stated reason here). What I meant by bringing the purpose into the discussion was that we are not in a world in which all of these abortions are being done without ultrasounds and, due to the lack of ultrasounds, patients are dying or otherwise being harmed. This would be a different situation and would justify a differnt conversation regarding legislative involvement.

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  20. Sandy says:

    Beware, possible TMI here. I have had a lot of transvaginal ultrasounds. I am pretty comfortable with my body and generally okay for gynecological exams. But I will testify that these ultrasounds are invasive. I had strong motivation to go through so many of them – treatment for infertility – and I mostly shrugged them off as necessary. But towards the end of my treatment I realized all these different medical personnel popping this probe into me had, over time, taken a surprisingly deep emotional toll.

    In my opinion, a single one of these exams could be quite traumatic for a woman seeking an abortion, if she’s already feeling shame, if she’s uncomfortable with gynecological anything, if she’s a rape or abuse survivor, if she’s forced to look at the ultrasound image of the fetus and hear some stupid bullshit script written by legislators while this dildo-like probe-thing is being held inside her. People need to be made aware that ultrasounds early on in a pregnancy involve deep vaginal penetration with a phallus-like object (and there’s a certain amount of internal pressure, sometimes uncomfortable in my experience). Too many people just don’t realize it. Sure performing an abortion might involve doing an ultrasound for the woman’s health and well-being and the success of the abortion, but one should not be demanded prior to the procedure by legislative bodies seeking to deter the abortion from happening.

    Janet Howell is awesome.

  21. Kristen J. says:

    I would be tempted to show up carrying a TV ultrasound wand; read the statute against object penetration; and introduce legislation allowing each victim of such penetration to hold their legislators personally liable for medical costs and emotional distress. (Yeah, it would never work…but it might make a few of them think about the fact that they’re rapists.)

  22. Jill says:

    It’s actually not the case that ultrasounds are 100% standard with abortions. Often they aren’t necessary.

  23. Angie unduplicated says:

    The intravaginal ultrasound requirement is on par with Egyptian virginity tests. Howell is wonderful: she should be in Congress or heading Planned Parenthood.
    “Republican heads…” Smiling all over.

  24. hmm says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that while a surgical abortion would require penetration, a medical abortion (where you take a pill) would not necessarily require any physical penetration.

  25. firelizard19 says:

    Thanks for answering my question above, all. That’s seriously invasive- not that I expect certain legislators to care since some believe all women getting abortions are sluts (who should be used to dildos!) But I have to believe that a few might be swayed by the facts and possibility that they’re legally requiring something so invasive.

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