A proposed law in Virgina requires women to have ultrasounds before terminating pregnancies. Since most abortions occur in the first trimester, and since ultrasounds done before 12 are usually transvaginal, that means that the state of Virginia is effectively requiring women to be vaginally penetrated against their will. And that’s rape.
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 Virginia 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.”
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 Rep. 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.
Well those are interesting rules — you agree to be penetrated once, and you agree to be penetrated forever and ever amen. Or if you’re going to have one medical procedure that sometimes involves penetration, you’re consenting to any other kind of unnecessary penetration. I’d be interested in seeing a list of all the Republican men who have ever had prostate exams, just so I know who has apparently consented to be probed by any device or body part at any time in the future.