Transvaginal ultrasound bill in Virginia, ‘personhood’ measures nationwide change battle lines on abortion: A Closer Look

Posted on February 19, 2012, February 19, 2012 by Cliff Pinckard

Last week, the state House and Senate in Virginia passed two anti-abortion bills, one a ‘personhood’ law that “defines personhood at conception and “provides that unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the Commonwealth.” (CBS News) The second bill requires women to undergo an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion. Pro-choice advocates are particularly upset at this bill because it would require some women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, which requires inserting a probe inside a woman’s vagina in order to see the reproductive organs.

Virginia is hardly alone. A federal appeals court last month upheld a similar law in Texas. Twenty-six states, including Ohio, have ultrasound laws to limit abortion access. Thirty-five states, including Ohio, require that a woman receive counseling before an abortion is performed. An anti-abortion personhood bill cleared the Oklahoma senate on Wednesday, making it close to becoming the first state to give individual rights to an embryo from the moment of conception. Anti-abortion activists in Ohio want to place a personhood amendment on a statewide ballot. A “heartbeat bill,” which would give Ohio the most stringent abortion limits in the nation, was put on hold in December because of an onslaught of amendments.

The push for anti-abortion legislation demonstrates a changing strategy in the pro-life battle against Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion. None of the laws specifically prohibit abortion … but they certainly make it more difficult. And that has pro-choice advocates like Dahlia Lithwick upset, particularly because of Virginia’s ultrasound bill (

Of course, the bill is unconstitutional. The whole point of the new abortion bans is to force the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade. It’s unconstitutional to place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, although it’s anyone’s guess what, precisely, that means. One would be inclined to suspect, however, that unwanted penetration with a medical device violates either the undue burden test or the right to bodily autonomy. But that’s the other catch in this bill. Proponents seem to be of the view that once a woman has allowed a man to penetrate her body once, her right to bodily autonomy has ended.

Tim Griffin, writing for Red State, says he has some concerns about the Virginia law, but he supports it and argues that pro-choice advocates are going overboard with their objections:

Although the discomfort of the test to women should not be in any way dismissed or downplayed, this really is an important step in allowing mothers to be informed of the ramifications of the choice that they make. Hundreds of thousands of American women struggle with Post Abortion Stress Syndrome. For those who advocate the rights of women, their responsibility should not only be on extending the “right to choose” before the procedure, but should extend to ensuring that these women do not have to endure a decision for the rest of their lives that they did not truly understand.

The argument over abortion rights and when life begins doesn’t end with the procedure itself. The recent controversies involving the Catholic church and the Obama administration in regard to providing contraception, as well as the battle between Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, have made birth control an issue. Last week, State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, added an amendment to an Ohio bill that would ban physicians assistants from inserting or removing intrauterine devices, or IUDs, a common form of birth control:

Wachtmann told The Plain Dealer he included the provision because of his belief that a fertilized egg is a human life. IUDs prevent pregnancies by not allowing fertilized eggs to implant in the uterus. “I’m pro-life and I don’t want to encourage any medical professionals including PAs to be able to do that,” the Napoleon Republican said after the vote. House Democrats on the committee were angered by Wachtmann’s move. “This is a glaring example of ideology being inserted into legislation where it has no place,” said Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood. “The focus of this bill was about expanding the scope of physician assistants and allowing them to better help their patients, and now it’s being used to restrict women’s rights to health care.”

Seizing on the Catholic controversy, some GOP legislators in Idaho, Arizona and Missouri are pushing bills that would allow even secular insurers or businesses to object to covering contraception, abortion and sterilization (NewsMax).:

John Feehery, a Republican strategist in Washington, said the controversy boosts Republican criticism that the 2010 health-care overhaul backed by Obama was an over-extension of government. “This helps chip away at that accomplishment,” Feehery said. That message is delivered most effectively when religious groups such as the Catholic Church lead the campaign against the rule, he said. “Having them as the messenger is important to Republicans.”

This is an election year, another reason these issues are being driven to the forefront, especially with culture warrior Rick Santorum surging in the polls. Santorum, a strict Catholic, has raised eyebrows with his views on birth control, although he attempted to clarify them this week. Carl Hiassen of the Miami Herald believes a GOP assault on birth control, using the Catholic controversy as a launching point, is a losing battle:

As political miscalculations go, this one could be epic. If you’re looking for a sure way to galvanize female voters against your own party, attack birth control.