The Rachel Maddow Show reported, on their Tuesday 14 Feb 2012 episode, about a bill recently passed by both houses of the Virginia State Legislature that would require a transvaginal ultrasound for any woman who wants to have an abortion in that state. Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has said he plans to sign the bill when it arrives on his desk.
Plenty of other state legislatures have advanced measures requiring ultrasounds before a woman can obtain an abortion . There is no medical function for this procedure. The logic seems to hinge on the idea that, somehow, seeing the little bean with a flickering heartbeat will convince women who haven’t fully thought through what they’re about to do to stop and treasure the full humanity of the creature growing inside them. This may well be the case for some women; for others, it’s just one more hoop that must be jumped to obtain a medical service that is both heartwrenching and necessary.
But the Virginia variant is the first of which I’ve heard that requires an ultrasound performed not by swooshing the wand around in a schmear of goo on the abdomen (transabdominal ultrasound, or TAU), but by inserting a hard plastic probe several inches into the woman’s vagina (transvaginal ultrasound, or TVU). The American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America say that TVU can be useful in early pregnancy; TVU can detect a pregnancy as early as 30 days’ gestation . It’s also good for getting a better look at the uterus and ovaries , but a 1991 study reported that ultrasonographers gained additional information from TVU over TAU in only 35 percent of cases .
Frankly, in the first trimester, there isn’t a whole lot to see, no matter how good the picture. Subjecting a woman to an ultrasound before abortion is a strategy; whether or not it is an effective one is an issue of contention. A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care found that, when given the option, 72 percent of women chose to view the sonogram. Of those, 86 percent said it was a positive experience, but not one changed their mind about the abortion. 83 percent said that seeing the sonogram image did not make the decision any more emotionally challenging than it already was .
But none of these things are why Virginia legislators want the specific requirement for transvaginal ultrasound on the books, though. They want it to be intrusive. They want it to be uncomfortable. They want it to be humiliating. They want to show that the state has the power to make you submit to this penetration before you can do what you want with your body.
And there’s a name for that: Rape.
The Code of Virginia § 18.2-67.2 describes the felony of object sexual penetration as
“…inanimate or animate object sexual penetration if he or she penetrates the labia majora or anus of a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, other than for a bona fide medical purpose…and [t]he act is accomplished against the will of the complaining witness, by force, threat or intimidation of or against the complaining witness or another person….” [emphasis mine]
This is no light offense–it carries a penalty of “confinement in the state correctional facility for life or for any term not less than five years.” There’s also an interesting clause in the penal code which says that
“where the offender is more than three years older than the victim… shall include a mandatory minimum term of confinement of 25 years…where the offender is more than three years older than the victim, is for a term less than life imprisonment, the judge shall impose, in addition to any active sentence, a suspended sentence of no less than 40 years.” 
The Virginia law would require women to sign a consent before the ultrasound procedure, but since the state would be effectively holding the woman’s medical choice hostage to obtain that so-called “consent,” I believe there’s a strong argument to be made for coercion, which is also illegal and invalidates that consent.
Before anyone mistakes my intent, I’m not proposing that ultrasonographers should be thrown into jail for abiding by the pending bill if it’s implemented. I’m proposing that the legislators and governor who pass this law should be thrown into jail for conspiracy to commit felony rape.
Rape is psychologically devastating. It wreaks changes on a person’s life and outlook that are no less than tectonic. Survivors are simply never the same. All this, I know from personal experience. If preserving the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the woman is truly the chief concern of the legislators behind the unprecedented wave of attacks on a woman’s right to choose, they wouldn’t heap degradation, humiliation, and involuntary, unnecessary physical penetration on those women.
Unless that’s their real goal. And if that’s the case, any claim that they’re on the side of the angels should be laughed right out of the room.