Just before the Virginia House of Delegates debated the controversial anti-abortion bill which required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, a procedure that involves inserting a probe into a pregnant woman’s vagina, he informed them that the bill could not pass with amendments that “address various medical and legal issues which have arisen.”
The first legal issue was a state rape law known as Object Sexual Penetration. The second was the new FBI definition of rape, which would also qualify this procedure, done against the wishes of women and their doctors, as rape. Medically, the bill raised all kinds of ethics issues, involving patient consent and doctor’s judgement.
The bill was amended to say that no women would have to undergo the procedure involuntarily. Instead, it requires women to have an external ultrasound. The bill also requires women be asked if they want to see the image generated by the ultrasound, and dropped the requirement that the image become part of her permanent medical records.
In his statement, Gov. Bob McDonnell said, “Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition for another medical procedure.”
I think Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Cynthia Tucker explained it better yesterday on MSNBC. She said that the anti-abortion movement presents women seeking abortion as idiots who have no idea what they are doing, when in fact no woman approaches this procedure out of ignorance. They have thought about it, prayed about it, discussed it with anyone they trust, agonized over the choice. It is not done thoughtlessly or callously by the vast majority of women who undergo it.
Every one of these “informed consent” laws – three-day waiting periods, ultrasounds, counseling sessions, education requirements – is an insult to women. It assumes women are too stupid to make a decision that impacts their whole lives and they must be guided to make the right choice, preferably the one the anti-abortion crowd wants her to make. We fought for this right, and we fought to remove the stigma of unwed motherhood. If we had not gotten it with Roe v. Wade, we would eventually have gotten it some other way. We were tired of having women die, along with their babies, from complications that medical science could not prevent. We were tired of comforting teenagers whose babies were taken from them in the delivery room and handed over to adoption agencies, just to protect the girls from the stigma of being unwed mothers. We were tired of knowing of women who died slowly and painfully from perforated bladders, vaginas and uteruses from illegal abortions. We were tired of watching the victims of rape and incest being forced to spend nine months reliving that horror every day as they watched their bodies distend. We were tired of watching mothers hand over their severely disabled children to institutions or sitting by their cribs as they died within hours or days, only to spend years paying off the bills, feeling the pain over and over every time they wrote out a check. We fought for this in part because of a crisis, a drug that caused severe disabilities in women who took it. But we also fought for it to save lives and minds. I fought for it for a great-aunt I never knew who died of peritonitis from an illegal abortion almost a decade before I was born and for the 15-year-old incest victim I went to high school with. Her mother adopted the baby, the single dumbest thing I have ever seen a state allow to happen to a rape victim.
And I would fight for it again. For a friend I found hiding in the woods, cowering, trying to hide her battered face. She had had an abortion, had felt she had no choice. Her husband was an alcoholic who couldn’t hold a job. They had three young sons they could barely support. Her husband was a full-fledged bastard who refused to allow her to use birth control and refused to even consider state aid if she lost her wages during the final phase of a pregnancy. I learned a lot about battered women from her. Several of us tried to get her and the boys into a shelter. We didn’t understand how a woman could believe she deserved to be beaten. For her, I will fight against any law that curtails the right of women to obtain birth control. For her, I support women’s shelters.
Abortion is not an easy decision. It can haunt a woman for years, just the way a miscarriage can. It is a decision made out of desperation more than anything else. Supportive families and networks of friends do more to prevent abortions than any laws. Ask me. I live with two results of that supportive intervention - a niece and her baby. Abortion was not an option with a whole family willing to help in any and every way possible.
If you have gotten the impression that I think these self-righteous jerks who think women get abortions they same way they get their hair done piss me off – well, you’re right. I didn’t live the sheltered, oblivious lives these jerks did.