Ultrasound Mandates Become more Popular in Legislatures

                Last week we told you about the national media attention that helped spotlight the intrusive nature of the Virginia ultrasound mandate. Basically, popular comedians pointed out that in most early abortions a transvaginal ultrasound has to be done to get an accurate ultrasound image. In other words women would not be allowed to consent to having something inserted in to their vaginas i.e. rape. This caused Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell to push an amendment which will allow women to choose if they want to have a transvaginal ultrasound, they would still have to undergo an abdominal ultrasound.

                 The amended bill has yet to go up for a final vote but it is clear that the women of Virginia, and in fact the United States, do not support this bill even in its amended format. Logic would dictate that lawmakers would NOT seek to replicate such a hotly contested mandate. Yet they are; in at least 5 other states (including the previously mentioned bill in Pennsylvania) bills have been introduced to require ultrasounds prior to an abortion.

                The question is why, in spite of such vehement opposition are lawmakers still trying to pass these bills? Salon writer Irin Carmon points out that ultrasound mandates are not new, 7 states already have mandatory ultrasound laws in place. This included Alabama, one of the 5 states with newly introduced ultrasound mandates. The difference between these existing laws and the new legislation is that the new bills don’t just require forced ultrasounds, they require the doctor to show the image to the patient and in some cases make the heartbeat audible to the patient. This is to ensure the patient knows they are choosing to abort an actually “person.” Some of the bills will also require the doctor give their patients inaccurate information about what “consequences” they may experience from an abortion.

                Despite what supporters of these bills would have you believe; these laws have absolutely nothing to do with “informed consent.” They are in fact all about shaming women and making abortions more difficult to obtain. By requiring an ultrasound prior to an abortion, the abortion is more expensive. On top of requiring ultrasounds, some of the proposed bills require women purchase not just one, but 2 images of the ultrasound. I can think of no legitimate reason to force a woman to buy an image of an ultrasound for both her doctor and herself beyond making the abortion more expensive and potentially demeaning.

                Forced ultrasounds do not reduce the number of abortions performed. There is no real purpose behind them and anyone who claims this is about “women’s health” has clearly been misinformed about women’s level of understanding about how pregnancy and abortion work.

VA Personhood Defeated

               Virginia seems to be a hotbed of reproductive rights news this week. In general it started off bad, but seems to be taking a turn for the better. First Governor McDonnell has decided to rescind his support for the transvaginal ultrasound mandate. This is good news, though he has unfortunately recommended an amendment which would make it so that an abdominal ultrasound is required, if this type of ultrasound cannot determine gestational age then the woman would be able to decline a transvaginal ultra sound. It’s still a mandatory ultrasound which is intrusive and condescending in its own right but it’s good to know that when we stand up for ourselves, politicians do listen.

                As of last week it seems we have more news to be happy about from Virginia. Remember how I told you about the fetal “personhood” bill; the one that had lawmakers deciding on the rights of women in Virginia without any input from those women? Well it seems the national attention the ultrasound law received has them leery about the “personhood” bill.

                The Washington Post reports that the Virginia Senate voted to send the “personhood” bill back to committee saying that it needs more time to consider the full consequences of the bill. Once sent back to committee, the bill cannot be presented for a vote again during this legislative session. In fact it cannot be presented for a vote until next year. Although this means the bill could still move forward in 2013, there is an upcoming election so many of the Delegates and Senators who voted for this bill and the ultrasound mandate may not be around to vote for the “personhood” bill next year.

                Just hours before the bill was sent back to committee it had seemed likely to pass given the Republican majority in the Virginia senate. The bill passed through committee without much effort but women on scene vehemently and loudly opposed the bill and in fact started an impromptu protest after being forced out of the Capitol building for being too rowdy.  Just after this protest the Senate voted to table to bill. Was this a coincidence or a cause and effect situation? I’d like to believe it was the latter, women spoke up and the politicians listened.

                The New York Times reports that it may have been due to something else though. Governor McDonnell is hoping for a vice-presidential nomination in the upcoming election and some supporters of the bill believe he pulled some strings behind the scenes and convinced the Virginia Senate to curtail the bill’s progress until after the election.

                Either way, I’m quite grateful to see the bill pushed to the sidelines. Hopefully this will urge Pennsylvania and Oklahoma politicians to curb their efforts as well. We’ll keep you posted.

PRENDA’s Even Darker side

Remember the ridiculous Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act? Well, thanks to the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, the Republicans got the bill passed out of committee and out to a general vote. During committee hearings on the bill Democrats tried to get numerous amendments passed including amendments to push back the effective date and address discrimination of pregnant women. They were unable to get most of the proposed amendments included. The only one they were successful in getting passed was an amendment to change the name to simply the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.

Perhaps the best thing about PRENDA passing out of committee is the fact that with its passing new information is being reported about the insidious nature of the bill. After the website Jezebel ran an article about the bill passing committee it seems one of their more astute readers noticed something in the bill that had so far been left unaddressed.

The bill includes language that will allow someone other than the pregnant person to decide if an abortion is the right decision for them. Specifically it allows for the parent of a minor or the “father” of the fetus to seek civil recourse against a doctor who performs an abortion based on sex or race. According to Jezebel this means that the bill “would theoretically allow a male partner or an underage woman’s parents to file an injunction that would force a woman to remain pregnant by charging her with being motivated to abort by the fetus’s race or sex, regardless of whether that’s what actually motivated the woman.”

I suppose on the bright side it is good that the bill exempts the pregnant person from penalty, but really? Allowing someone other than the pregnant person to decide if and why that person should or should not get an abortion is just sick. Penalizing a doctor for it is even worse. The entire bill is just absurd and really a waste of time as it is unlikely the bill would pass through the Democratic controlled Senate, but still. The fact that this bill managed to pass committee makes me sad.

The near constant attacks from socially conservative politicians on reproductive health are beyond disheartening. Though I admit the past few weeks have shown that when we put our minds to it, we really can be successful at pushing these attacks back. The backlash against Susan G Komen and the Virginia Transvaginal Ultrasound laws have shown us that.

More on Transvaginal Ultrasound Mandates

               Mandatory ultrasound laws are sadly not a new concept in the world of anti abortion legislation. A few states already have them on the books, including Texas where the State Supreme Court recently upheld the law in spite of the fact that it requires doctors to lie to their patients about the risks of abortions as well as show their patients the image of the ultrasound. When a pregnancy is in the earliest gestational time frames (when most abortions occur) a transvaginal ultrasound is needed to get an accurate result. This means that in states with these laws women are forced to have a transvaginal ultrasound even though they are medically unnecessary to ensuring a successful procedure.

                The Virginia legislature has passed an ultrasound mandate and specifically blocked an amendment to the bill that would allow women to consent to the ultrasound before the procedure. The bill does not include an exemption for women who were raped. So in essence they would have to be raped twice if they wanted to have an abortion. Activists in the world of reproductive rights have been opposing such laws since they were first proposed.

                Finally it seems the main stream media is jumping on board with opposing these laws and more importantly, it looks like the negative attention might be working. The Rachel Maddow show has covered anti-abortion legislation on a regular basis, including ultrasound laws. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live also recently aired skits that pointed out the absurdity of these laws. Along with television, online activism is having an impact too. A protest was organized with in just a few days on Facebook and over a thousand protester showed up outside the Virginia Capitol building for a silent protest against the invasive law.

                Following the media backlash and demonstration against the law, reports are coming out saying that although he had previously promised to sign the bill, Governor McDonnell is backing away from that promise and is recommending an amendment that will require only an abdominal ultrasound. Although this is still a massive intrusion onto women’s rights, it is at least a step in the right direction and it shows the power people have when they stand up for their rights. The Virginia Senate still has to opportunity to vote against the bill for final approval so we will see what happens.

                While all of this has been going on, the state legislature in Pennsylvania has been considering its own ultrasound mandate. Hopefully all the national attention the Virginia bill is getting will cause Pennsylvania lawmakers to think twice.

VAWA Passed through Committee

                The lack of concern Republican politicians have for Americans is appalling. It seems that we are hearing about another bill or regulation being pushed by them that do nothing but make the lives of the non-rich people harder. It seems they have decided to take things to a new low. Back in December the Violence Against Women Act was finally reintroduced to Congress to be reauthorized.

                This month it was reviewed in committee and passed to the Senate floor for a full vote. It was passed through committee with a 10-8 vote. Meaning 8 people voted against reauthorizing the Act that revolutionized the way domestic violence is treated in our country. The act that brought the problem of domestic abuse to the federal level and created programs to advocate for and assist victims and to train police officers on how to handle a domestic situation.

                For the first time in its 20 year history, VAWA failed to get bipartisan support. The reasons the Republican Senators decided to not vote for it? Apparently because it helps too many people. The proposed bill includes new language that will increase support for disadvantaged groups. For example, according to the New York Times one of the sticking points was language that guarantees protection to homosexual and transgender victims of domestic violence. They are also opposed to additions that create a modest expansion to the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who come forward for help. Another issue they have with the bill is the expanded rights it gives to Native American Tribes to prosecute both Native Americans and Non-Native Americans in domestic violence cases.

                All I can think is seriously? They are so full of hatred for minorities that they think it is acceptable to ignore the women and children being battered and assaulted by their partners? That just because someone is gay or Native American or undocumented, their beatings should be allowed to continue? It literally makes me shudder to think some of these negative politicians might actually manage to be re-elected.

                The bill will likely pass as the Democrats have a majority in the Senate, but it’s important to let our Senators know we want ALL victims of domestic violence to be protected, not just some of them. If the actions of these senators sickens you as much as it does me, please reach out to your Senators now. Contact information can be obtained here.

This Week in “Wait, What!?!” 2

This new birth control mandate by President Obama is a great thing for anyone who needs access to birth control. It will provide access to previously unaffordable birth controls by eliminating co-pays and other out of pocket expenses. This should be a win, but apparently some religious leaders and conservative politicians don’t think religiously affiliated institutions should have to be included in the mandate because of religious freedom.

Ok, I personally think that’s a baseless argument, but President Obama went for it and offered an accommodation in which religiously affiliate employers can apply for an exemption and in those situations, the insurance companies will proactively reach out to all women on their plans with those employers and offer them birth control- still without co-pays or deductibles. So win-win right? Women get their birth control and religious employers don’t have to “violate their religious conscious” by helping to pay for something they are morally opposed to.

Sadly religious leaders and conservative politicians are still vitriolic about the fact that birth control will be included as preventative care, period. So they decided to take a stand against the “evils” of birth control by pushing for an amendment that will allow any employer to opt out of providing ANY form of medical care coverage that they (the employer) decides violates their personal morals. This amendment doesn’t just allow them to opt of birth control coverage (a deplorable move in its own right); it allows them to opt out of any coverage they choose.

 As Adam Serwer from Mother Jones puts it: “a boss who regarded overweight people and smokers with moral disgust could exclude coverage of obesity and tobacco screening from his employees’ health plans. A Scientologist employer could deny its employees depression screening because Scientologists believe psychiatry is morally objectionable. A management team that thought HIV victims brought the disease upon themselves could excise HIV screening from its employees’ insurance coverage.”

Meanwhile, on February 16th the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had a hearing to discuss the birth control mandate and whether it crosses the line of violating religious freedom. Chairman of the Committee Representative Darrell Issa blocked all pro-birth control proponents from participating and had a panel consisting of 8 men and 1 woman discuss why birth control is bad. The blatant bias against providing accurate information regarding the debate cause the two female Democrats leave the hearing in protest.

A number of polls show that the majority of American’s approve the birth control mandate, even before the accommodation was offered. People want access to birth control; they want to prevent unintended pregnancies. Yet, a good number of these political leaders are up for re-election this year. I amazed to think in a country with such broad support for the mandate, they would risk being so vehemently opposed to it and still hope to get re-elected.

VA Closer to Fetal Personhood

               So remember how I mentioned that law makers in Virginia are attempting to make fetal personhood happen in Virginia? Well, they are one step closer. The bill that would define “personhood” as beginning at conception went up for a vote in the House of Delegates on February 14 and it passed. In fact it passed in a 66-32 vote. Awesome, except not really.

                This bill, unlike “personhood” initiatives in other states, is a bill that attempts to define personhood at conception through the legislative process. This means that Virginia residents don’t get to have a say in this. This huge, monumental change to Virginia policy gets no input from residents. A measure that bans abortions, hormonal birth controls, in vitro fertilization and more would impact nearly every resident in Virginia, yet they get no say in this.

                According to the Rachel Maddow Show, a Delegate attempted to add an amendment to this bill that specifically stated that this bill would not in any way impact birth control access but the proposed amendment was voted down. This makes their intent clear; this bill has nothing to do with abortion and everything to do with controlling Virginia women.

                This whole this is sad. It genuinely makes me want stop admitting Virginia is my home state. On the bright side, I have a huge circle of family and friends and trust me they will all know how serious this is. If you live in Virginia, check this link and contact your local senator ASAP. If you don’t live there but you have friends or relatives in Virginia, contact them and let them know how serious this is, let them know who to get in touch with their senators.

                While you’re at it, tell them how to contact Governor McDonnell and tell him to veto the absurd bill that requires a transvaginal ultrasound for all women seeking an abortion. This bill, again unlike other states, doesn’t just require an ultrasound; it requires a transvaginal ultrasound and has already passed the House of Delegates and Senate.

                If you believe Virginia women deserve better than this, please make sure everyone you know in Virginia stands up against this. The Virginia Senate is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats with the tie breaking vote going to Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling. It is vital that all Virginia Senators know that the residents won’t stand for such an invasive intrusion on their rights.