This is not about abortion. It’s about arrogance, paternalism and the abuse of power. But let’s begin with abortion – which I am hesitant to do because it is, in almost every instance I can imagine, none of my business. And it is certainly not the business of the state legislature, the U.S. Congress or presidential candidates. But Friday’s post on Virginia Senate Bill 484, requiring “transvaginal ultrasounds” for pregnant women, elicited some strong responses, one of which included a news story about Pennsylvania’s House Bill 1077. Incongruously known as “the Women’s Right to Know Act,” HB 1077 mandates ultrasounds for pregnant women contemplating abortion. The bill’s name plays off the real right-to-know law, whose purpose is to assure transparency in state government. Until a concerted effort, led by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, pushed through an improved law in 2008, Pennsylvania had the worst right-to-know law in the United States. (Full disclosure: the PNA hired me to write a blog in support of that campaign.)
A disturbing pattern emerges in the Virginia and Pennsylvania bills:
- Both were introduced by women who seemed sort of clueless – Pa. Rep. Kathy Rapp said she had “never heard of” a transvaginal ultrasound, while Va. Sen. Jill Vogel said she would withdraw her bill . . . after it had already passed.
- Then the paternalists took over – “It's really just to help women make a good and informed decision.” Anything I can do that would help better educate a woman.” Blah, blah, blah.
- The bills humiliate women – the Pennsylvania bill, for example, stipulates where the screen must be placed in front of the woman and even the typeface of the statement she must sign (bold).
Both bills are off the table at the moment . . . but remember that the Virginia bill did pass the Senate, while the Pennsylvania bill had 112 co-sponsors in a legislature that currently has 197 members.