President’s Day 2012: The Day Democracy Lived in Virginia

The start of last week marked the 132nd President’s Day.  It also marked an historic march on Richmond, Virginia, in the name of Democracy.  According to the AP, “…about 1,400 people, most of them women, linked arms to form a silent human cordon along the Capitol Square walkways that legislators use between the state Capitol and their legislative offices.”

Why did these women do this?  Two words: trans-vaginal ultrasound.  Since the Republicans have taken over leadership in the House of Delegates in Virginia, several anti-choice bills have been proposed, including a “Personhood” bill that was defeated this week.

SB 484, which was at the center of the controversy, mandates that a trans-vaginal ultrasound procedure be performed before an abortion. Unlike abdominal ultrasounds, that are performed externally, trans-vaginal ultrasounds require doctors to use a probe that can  be 8 to 10 inches long.  As a woman I can say, “Ouch!”

After the outrage that was expressed by his constituents, Governor Bob McDonnell amended SB 484 last Wednesday and released this statement: “It is apparent that several amendments to the proposed legislation are needed to address various medical and legal issues which have arisen. … 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 to another medical procedure.” The full statement can be found here.

McDonnell said at a Friday forum hosted by Politico that he still wants ultrasounds to be done, but that they should be external ultrasounds.  This again sounds like McDonnell is writing bills with his own morals and opinions instead of science. It is medical fact that external ultrasounds early in the first month and half of pregnancies are useless because the age of the fetus is undetectable.  The Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted 65-32 for an amended bill that requires only an external ultrasound.

Ultrasound Laws Around The Nation

Existing laws: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas

Enjoined laws (not currently in effect): North Carolina, Oklahoma

Bills pending that require ultrasounds: Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia

Bills pending that require doctors to offer ultrasounds: Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey

Source: Guttmacher Institute (the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that tracks legislation on sexual and reproductive health)

A Facebook page and blog sprung up last week in response to the bill.  The movement is being named “Speak Loud With Silence.” As demonstrated in Richmond on Monday, the women and men lined the streets and stood silently together.  The blog can be viewed here.

One protester, Christen Schmeling, who is a friend of mine, said this about the day: “I decided to go down to Richmond after a Facebook friend sent me an invitation to the silent protest. When I got to the Assembly Building, there was a very large group of people lined up on both sides of the sidewalk leading to the entry way and even more people lined up on the sidewalk around the rotunda. Over 1000 people total had shown up that day to protest the bills, including mothers with their children. After the protest broke up around 12:30, everyone was encouraged to go speak with their Senator, Representative, and/or their aides to let them know in person how we felt about the bills.”

“The discouraging part for me was when Senator Vogel’s aide, Tricia Stiles, told me that a lot of false information was being spread around by claims that the mandatory ultrasound bill would require a trans-vaginal ultrasound for the majority of abortions. We read over the bill together and she pointed out the limited conditions that would require a trans-vaginal ultrasound and stated that it would almost never require one and how so many people were wrong and uninformed. At no time did she say anything about how the vast majority of abortions happen within the first trimester, and in order to capture a picture and heartbeat of a fetus (to keep on file — another part of the bill) an abdominal ultrasound just wouldn’t be sufficient.”

Clearly some of those who are running Washington are making laws based on their own ideologies and beliefs but not based on science or what their constituents want.  Men who want to make laws about body parts that they do not even have should review this flow chart posted on the Washington Post’s website.  Don’t worry, men, it’s simple to follow, no science required.