The Virginia ultrasound bill

Driving to Charlottesville yesterday for a talk at U. Va., I got to listen to a local radio show focused on the ultrasound bill. Turns out that Jon Stewart wasn’t exaggerating.

Here’s the technical scoop, per a professor of OB/GYN: The bill requires an ultrasound before any abortion. For a second-trimester abortion, the fetus is large enough to be seen on a standard “jelly-on-the-belly” external ultrasound, of the kind that’s routine for any pregnancy. But in the first trimester, that sort of ultrasound shows nothing at all. So requiring a technically adequate ultrasound for a first-trimester abortion means using the transvaginal technique: yes, the one opponents keep comparing to rape. Apparently the comparison isn’t out of line: someone who had had one described it as extremely uncomfortable, invasive, and humiliating.

Apparently the dimwit Republican legislator who sponsored the bill – a woman, as it turns out – has said that she didn’t understand what her bill would require of women seeking abortions. The dimwit Governor, hoping for a spot on the Republican national ticket, says that he, too, supported the bill without knowing what it was about.

And no, the bill didn’t have either a rape exemption or a conscience clause for doctors who believe that doing a painful and pointless procedure would violate the Hippocratic Oath. But the right-wing, including some who call themselves libertarian, leaped to its defense anyway, because it was a Red Team effort.

Tyler Cowen, for example, is often interesting and thoughtful. I wonder if he’d regard requiring a proctoscopy for anyone voting Republican – because they ought to feel what it’s like to have Republican policies actually applied to you – would also help create fully informed consumers. I assume he meant to make fun of consumer protection, rather than defending the forced vaginal penetration law, but his comment was the sort of astoundlingly heartless and tasteless remark that even otherwise decent people can find themselves making in the heat of partisan fury. Of course an ultrasound is utterly irrelevant to women whose decision to have an abortion depends on their social circumstances rather than the state of the fetus, so the Virigina bill has absolutely nothing in common with a law requiring that banks disclose the interest rates on credit cards or used-car dealers disclose the defects in the cars they sell.

It appears that Jon Stewart and a bunch of fired-up Virginia women have managed to stop this monstrosity. But the substitute the Governor is pushing to save face would still require the utterly pointless abdominal ultrasound even for very early abortions, where it won’t show anything. But that doesn’t mean it won’t add to the cost of the procedure; of course the bill doesn’t have any provision for paying for the ultrasounds.

Let’s not forget that gross, idiotic, cruel stuff like this is what today’s Republican party is about, that anyone who votes, donates, writes, blogs, or tweets for the Red Team is, will he nill he, contributing to it. In Virginia, it was the Tea Party faction in the legislature that pushed this bill. So can we please, please, never hear again the canard that the Teahadis are in favor of small government?