The other reason that the ultrasound bill crumbled.

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.)

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

20 replies on “The other reason that the ultrasound bill crumbled.”

  1. But, um, last I checked the bill didn’t crumble. It rallied at the last minute and passed with a weak sort of ‘except in cases of rape and incest’ exclusion. For the vast majority of women seeking abortions, the vaginal probe requirement will apply.

    Yeah, it will potentially be struck down in a year or two by SCOTUS as ‘unreasonable search and seizure’, but for now it has passed and McDonnell seems ready to sign it.

  2. Incorrect. The invasive part of the bill was dropped completely, leaving external ultrasounds as the only thing left.

  3. It did sort of crumble, but Waldo’s reasoning that it didn’t pass in the way it was introduced is correct.

    As the bill was passed, it’s actually even more ridiculous as transabdominal (jelly on the belly) ultrasounds are unable to see gestational age during the first trimester, when the vast, vast majority of abortions are done. So the general assembly is going to force women to pay for and go through a procedure that is literally useless. Then the person conducting the ultrasound would be mandated to ask the woman if they’d like to have another ultrasound, i.e. transvaginal, to figure out the gestational age.

    It’s honestly a very silly bill that doesn’t belong in our code.

  4. this really defines who the Republicans are these days and it proves that they have moved to the far right.

    this also proves that Waldo’s recent concern about being “political” was just a thought!

    Good for Waldo!

    It’s HARD to not be “political” when we have a bunch of folks masquerading as fiscal conservatives who, in reality are a bunch of right wing reactionaries who have absolutely no problem with big govt telling us how we ought to live – as long as it’s their values.

  5. Umm, granted it’s slightly off-topic, but the comparison of maggot therapy & organ transplants puzzles me…

  6. Nothing says “intrusive government mandate” like an unnecessary, government-imposed, medical procedure. The “small government” Republican-chant is a lie.

  7. I thought when the Daily Show and SNL Weekend Update both went after this bill, the weight of scorn and derison would exact their toll.

    see the SNL video here
    It starts around 1:39 –

  8. ” I thought when the Daily Show and SNL Weekend Update both went after this bill, the weight of scorn and derison would exact their toll”

    these guys don’t care about that. If they are doing the bidding of their base, they don’t care what “liberals” (anyone who is not their base) believe.

    the only way they end up “believing” is if they get thrown out of office but unfortunately – they know they can get away with this in Fed and then act like good boys in October.

  9. Larry in the fall it’s about the middle of the country and I can assure that not just liberals that watch those shows (or the clips like this one). I don’t watch the show live but catch the update clip the next day- as I’m sure many do.

    I can tell you that McDonnell cares a great deal as he’d liked to be Romney’s VP and this would have really hurt him with moderate voters.

  10. I give you credit for admitting that the requirement for a “transvaginal ultrasound” was merely “implicit” in the original bill. I’m not sure it was even that, but I agree that it shouldn’t have passed if it WERE required However, to read most of your fellows on the Left, the bill not only required a transvaginal ultrasound, but it required that it be performed without lubricant by a veteran waterboarder.

  11. The bottom line as I see it is that the very impulse behind social conservatives’ desire to legislate on matters related to sexuality (abortion, birth control, HPV etc.) is what ultimately did them in. They want to regulate human sexuality because the idea of it makes them feel almost irrationally uncomfortable. And you can’t hope to have a rational debate about the specifics of a subject that makes you irrationally uncomfortable.

    Kind of like during the gubernatorial campaign when a reporter asked McDonnell, in relation to his 2003 statement that gay judges might not be qualified to serve because they could be violating the state’s anti-sodomy statutes, whether the future governor had, himself, ever participated in sodomy. Social conservatives are fine with talking about vague generalities, but the moment they’re asked about a specific, they either pretend they didn’t understand the question or pretend that they don’t know the answer.

  12. in the end.. the GOP has seriously drunk the evangelical kool-aid and if you think about it – they want a Christian version of Sharia Law.

    It won’t end – until the voters of Va put the right wing out of it’s misery.

  13. this also proves that Waldo’s recent concern about being “political” was just a thought!

    If you mean my break from blogging about partisan political matters, that’s actually over. My work for the White House concluded last Friday. So don’t give me too much credit there. :)

    I thought when the Daily Show and SNL Weekend Update both went after this bill, the weight of scorn and derison would exact their toll

    these guys don’t care about that. If they are doing the bidding of their base, they don’t care what “liberals” (anyone who is not their base) believe.

    I don’t think that’s true, Larry. I mean, you may well be right that they don’t care about this bill being made fun of on TDS or SNL, but these legislators all have children, siblings, parents, nieces, nephews, friends, etc. Those connections are powerful influencers, and when they see their parent, sibling, child, uncle, aunt, or friend supporting something that’s turned the state into a national laughingstock, they’re liable to say something. I wouldn’t underestimate that.

    in the end.. the GOP has seriously drunk the evangelical kool-aid and if you think about it – they want a Christian version of Sharia Law.

    I think that’s increasingly true, Larry. Rick Santorum is a perfect example of that.

  14. ” but these legislators all have children, siblings, parents, nieces, nephews, friends, etc. ”

    maybe. have you ever been to a large family gathering where some have strongly-held political (and/or religious) beliefs and the rule is “don’t discuss”?

    the right wing writes off the “lame stream media” as biased and “out to get them”…anyhow… if the media attacks them – they think it’s the media bias – not their positions.

    remember, these are the same folks who see scientific consensus as ….conspiracy…

    Santorum – did a very, very important thing IMHO.

    He gave us a fairly accurate assessment of numbers of folks who believe this way (in some states). Since he has “outed” himself on his actual beliefs – and run in an election – it appears that, for instance, in Michigan, about 1/2 the Republican Party believes as he does.

    In the past, that level of “right” used to be about 20-25% of the GOP.

    Take Virginia – even as they realized how bad the “optics” and media focus had become – they were undeterred.

    And if, come fall, a majority who voted for these social punishment laws – keep their seats – we have the answer to how strongly those to the left of these guys actually feel about Sharia-ized Christian law in Va.

    I read a stat the other day.. it was about the percentage of blacks vs Hispanics vs whites who get abortions.

    14% are white. given voter turnout.. that’s not a good metric.

  15. The pressure is from Republican business leaders. The businesswomen have seen their worst fears realized – the party really is run by a bunch of male pigs, and the businessmen just know this is bad for business. These are the people who have funded, promoted, and stood by the GOP even as the Party has lurched right and pandered to the religionists. A reckoning is upon the GOP.

  16. The only thing that the original and passed bills required that was not already done per the National Abortion Federation policies was require the sonographer to offer to show the patient the ultrasound and to offer to let the patient hear the heartbeat. You can’t have an abortion if you don’t know how old and where the embryo is. Every woman, who has an abortion, has to have a sonogram anyway. Where it is transvaginal or transabdominal is determined by the state of development, e.g. if the embryo can’t be found by transabdominal, Planned Parenthood requires that the patient undergo a transvaginal ultrasound. Argue for or against the law as you like, but stop playing upon the general public’s ignorance with red herrings.

  17. the determination of the age of the fetus is between the woman and her doctor and for the doctor to determine the best methods with concurrence from the women.

    why should the state be telling the doctor how to do his job?

    I thought you folks were opposed to the govt getting in between a patient and their doctor?

    how many States ALLOW that process to REMAIN between a women and her doctor?

    is that just a convenient ruse for just SOME issues?

    hypocrisy and ideology are in play here… on display…

  18. this may come across harsher than some would prefer. If it is too harsh.. my apologies ahead of time. it came from the heart ( but that’s no excuse).

    There is no refuge from the TRUTH for the zealots.

    The simple truth is that the anti-abortion folks believe tha abortion is immoral and they want the govt to enforce that view.

    Many of the same folks are opposed to morning after pills and even contraceptives and would also have government keep these from people or let their employers keep them from being part of people’s health care plans.

    this has everything to do with personal beliefs and having those beliefs imposed on others by the govt.

    It’s the Christian version of Sharia Law.

    If you have sex and the purpose is not procreation – you are a sinner and should be punished and Govt is the way to do it by taking away options to deal with sex for pure fun.

    These are the same folks who rail against the govt “running our lives” for other issues

    The absolute worst thing to happen to the American Political System is when the evangelicals decided that their religious views should be imposed on everyone by the govt.

    We are now ruined until and unless enough ordinary people step up at election time and flush the ideologues.

    One can hope…..

  19. no one’s even mentioned it, but I presume we’re all in agreement here that conservatives think vaginas are gross because they hate women, right? just checking.

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