State-Sanctioned Rape: Trans-Vaginal Ultrasound Laws in Virginia, Texas, and Iowa

 by Andy Kopsa 

Virginia is poised to send two of the most abhorrent anti-choice bills to Governor Bob McDonnell to sign. The governor, eyes trained on a vice presidential bid, has indicated he will sign at least one if not both of the bills.

The first is a bill requiring the use of trans-vaginal ultrasound prior to a woman obtaining an abortion, the other is an egg-as-person bill.  Like other failed "personhood" bills, the Virginia provision would outlaw not only abortion but also forms of hormonal birth control. 

Although the Governor has said he will consider the personhood bill he has been clear he would sign the forced ultrasound bill.  But let's start calling this what it really is: state sanctioned rape.  

In Virginia, rape is defined as the following:

§ 18.2-61. Rape.

A. If any person has sexual intercourse with a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, or causes a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, to engage in sexual intercourse with any other person and such act is accomplished (i) against the complaining witness's will, by force, threat or intimidation of or against the complaining witness or another person; or (ii) through the use of the complaining witness's mental incapacity or physical helplessness; or (iii) with a child under age 13 as the victim, he or she shall be guilty of rape.

I called and emailed McDonnell’s press secretary Jeff Caldwell asking if the forced vaginal ultrasound bill would in-fact overturn the rape statute.  Caldwell did not return my call or email by the time of publication. 

During the debate Republican State Del. Todd Gilbert said:

“the vast majority of these cases [abortion] are matters of lifestyle convenience.” And, 

“We think in matters of lifestyle convenience and in other matters that it is right and proper for a woman to be fully informed about what she is doing.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene said of the ultrasound bill alluding to Gilbert's ludicrous statement:

"This bill and comments on the House floor show the disrespect anti-choice lawmakers have for women’s personal and private reproductive decisions made with their doctors and their families.”

Gilbert embodies the nature of the debate in one sweeping statement; women choose abortion willy-nilly and women aren't smart enough to make their own decisions about their bodies so big government and men will (he has since issued an apology.)

The ignorance Gilbert displayed is the norm and I encountered similar stupidity first hand when confronted by a group of men on Facebook regarding the Texas ultrasound law. This is the relevant passage from a my piece written for The Frisky on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

Last week I got into a heated exchange with a group of men on Facebook about abortion.  It was regarding the Texas law requiring a woman view an ultrasound prior to getting an abortion.  The man starting the thread praised the Texas Supreme Court for upholding the ultrasound law.

This opinion piece from The Houston Chronicle (via AlterNet) gives you an idea of what a the government mandated ultrasound law in Texas could mean:

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 88 percent of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, “jelly on the belly,” often cannot produce a clear image. Therefore, a transvaginal probe is most often necessary, especially up to 10 weeks to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called “public servants” who passed and signed this bill into law.

Under the Texas penal code penetration of a woman’s vagina without her consent is sexual assault.  In other words, it is rape  — which is punishable by imprisonment.

In my bizarre Facebook exchange mentioned above, a man brazenly told me rape by the state was analogous to paying taxes, "If you want to talk about government rape, let's talk about paying taxes to the IRS!"

The conversation deteriorated from there, culminating with a man writing that I was “lucky your mom didn't abort you” and to shut my “pie hole.”  It would have been simply hilarious if the premise of the conversation weren't so disturbing.  

And then there is Iowa - Iowa is no stranger to waging war on women's reproductive rights, it has been the hobby of the religious right there for years.  State GOP Representatives have brought forward three bills; egg-as-person, forced ultrasound and a so-called "Woman's Right to Know" bill. 

The forced ultrasound bill passed out of a House subcommittee and is on to the full Human Resources Committee - and then its on to the floor for full debate and vote.  This bill is likely to pass out of the House but State Senator Steve Sodders told me (if it did make it out of the house) it would certainly die in the Senate.  The Iowa Senate is the sane chamber dominated by Democrats functioning under the leadership of bulldog Senator Mike Gronstal. 

While it may be true that the ultrasound bill will not pass in Iowa, these attempts at passing forced ultrasound bills and other anti-women legislation must continue to be called out no matter if the bill will pass or not.  And like Texas and Virginia, the Iowa ultrasound bill could lead to forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds.  

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People for the American Way puts it this way when talking about Virgina's bill but can be applied across the board, “…Virginia’s ultrasound bill takes the war on women to a new level. These politicians aren't only invading women’s hospital rooms, they’re requiring women to undergo an incredibly invasive procedure without their consent. That’s not only insulting to women, it flies in the face of our values as a free nation.” 

The bottom line is pro-choice legislators in state houses around the country as well as physicians and women's rights activist must start drawing the clear line between state forced transvaginal ultrasounds and rape.

This article first appeared on RH Reality Check.

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