Virginia Ritual Humiliation Bill

In other news involving the war on reproductive rights:

Over the weekend Virginia became the eighth state to pass legislation requiring women to submit to an ultrasound examination and be offered a chance to view the images before having an abortion. But the Old Dominion followed just one state, Texas, in specifying the required images in a way that requires, in most cases, highly intrusive procedures.

As Dahlia Lithwick notes:

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.

Lithwick also observes that sponsors of the legislation offered no evidence that the ultrasound images obtained by these state-required violations of women will prevent a single abortion. That’s probably because there isn’t any. As Stephanie Pappas of LiveScience noted when Texas was considering its similar legislation:

“I’ve never seen anybody who said they were coming in to an abortion, wanted to see the ultrasound, reacted to it and then changed their mind on the basis of that,” said Ellen Wiebe, an abortion provider and director of the Willow Women’s Clinic in British Columbia, Canada.

Wiebe has done some of the few studies worldwide that attempt to look at women’s reactions to viewing an ultrasound pre-abortion. The research can’t speak directly to laws like the proposed Texas bill, Wiebe told LiveScience, because in that study “nobody was ever forced to do something they didn’t want to do.” But it is the closest thing to research anyone has ever done on state sonogram policies.

The study, published in 2009 in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, found that, when given the option, 72 percent of women chose to view the sonogram image. Of those, 86 percent said it was a positive experience. None changed their mind about the abortion.

Absent evidence that they represent some sort of difference-maker, it seems incontrovertible that the purpose of such requirements is to intimidate and humiliate women, and add another cost and delay to the abortion procedure, which, of course, Virginia legislators would ban altogether if the Supreme Court would let them.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.