Obviously, the biggest reason why the ultrasound bill collapsed is because of its implicit requirement of a transvaginal ultrasound. It’s enormously ironic that Del. Kathy Byron is simultaneously patroning one bill that requires that an object be inserted into an unwilling woman’s vagina (arguing that such medical decisions are the role of government) and another that eliminates the requirement that kids be vaccinated against HPV (arguing that such medical decisions are out of the realm of government). That’s both indefensible and politically infeasible.
But there’s another reason for the collapse of the bill that’s nearly as important: Republican legislators didn’t want to say the word “vagina.” As soon as opponents took control of the terms of the debate, and framed it as the “transvaginal ultrasound bill” or the “vaginal probe bill,” Republicans had lost the debate. Del. Dave Albo lamented that his wife wouldn’t have sex with him after seeing Del. David Englin on TV talking about “trans-V this and trans-V that”—a telling complaint. Setting aside how wildly inappropriate that these remarks were, there are two components of this that stand out. The first is Albo’s belief that his wife merely hearing him described on TV in association with the word “vagina” was enough to put her off of him for the night. The second is that Albo was perfectly willing to describe to the House his failed attempt to have sex with his wife, but unwilling to say the word “vagina” in the process.
The bill’s supporters couldn’t even engage in the debate about their bill, because it required uttering a word that they were unwilling to have pass their lips.
There’s a special irony here that I’d be remiss in failing to acknowledge. A common practice of pro-life groups is to hold protests that feature enormous color photos of aborted fetuses. The idea is to disgust passersby, in hopes that they will be convinced to oppose abortion. This strikes me as absurdly illogical, although perhaps no less effective for that. Photos of maggot therapy or organ transplants would also elicit disgust, but that doesn’t mean that those practices should be outlawed. In this instance, this practice was used by pro-choice groups against the pro-life groups who supported this bill. (Many claimed it was about keeping women healthy. Horseshit. If that were the case, this bill would require—and fund—ultrasounds for all pregnant women, not only those about to get an abortion.) Opponents of the ultrasound bill employed the phrase “vaginal probe” and the word “vagina” over and over again, making audiences squirm in reactions ranging from discomfort to disgust. Many people opposed the bill because, in part, they just didn’t want to keep hearing the word “vagina” and found the concept of a vaginal probe disgusting, regardless of its medical necessity (or lack thereof). Conservatives got out-flanked by liberals ripping off their tactic.
(In case this blog entry doesn’t make it obvious, I completed my assignment for the White House on Friday, meaning I am no longer a federal employee. Thus ends my self-imposed prohibition on overtly partisan politics. The project I was working on is not yet public, but when it is you can be sure I’ll write about it here.)