Virginia Effectively Kills Modified State-Sanctioned Rape Bill, But There’s a Lesson to be Learned

Yesterday, Bob McDonnell, the Governor of Virginia, asked the state legislature to make changes to a bill that was causing a national firestorm.  As was put so wisely by the folks over at RHRealityCheck, this bill sanctioned rape of a woman by the state.  Yes, that’s true.  This bill mandated that women undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound prior to having an abortion.  For those who are still in the dark, this would mean that women seeking abortions – a legal procedure here in the US although you wouldn’t know it – would first be forced to have an object shoved up their vagina without their consent.   In other words, rape.

As women across the country appropriately identified this as – sorry, I mean “cried” – rape, the Governor realized that this was perhaps not the fight he was looking for and retreated from his earlier support for the bill, instead asking the legislature to “soften” the requirements so that a trans-vaginal ultrasound would not be required.

Women’s groups and pro-choice advocates rejoiced.  My Google news and Facebook and Twitter streams were unanimous it seems: The Governor “backed-down” “backed away”back pedaled” and “backtracked” in his support for this invasive bill.

Of course, the bill still required that women have an ultrasound before an abortion.

Wait.  What?

Whether it was intentional or not, the Republicans did it again: moved the goal post so far to the right that when they conceded and “compromised,” it looked like we won.

Just over a year ago, Digby wrote about Democrats’ distraction with “the shiny object” during the debate about HR 3, The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.  This bill sought to make the Hyde Amendment permanent, while adding in the requirement that only victims of “forcible rape” be eligible for a taxpayer funded abortion.  Pro-choice activists and Democrats alike cried foul, with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz taking lead on the public bashing.

Here’s the thing.  I and many others don’t believe for a second that this was accidental.  The only reason for Republicans to have proposed this bill was specifically so that they could back away from it.  So that it looked like they were uncomfortably agreeing to keep everything where it is – at a compromise that was worked out between the two sides long ago and which respects both parties, squatting solidly in the middle.  In other words, the Hyde Amendment.

I’m not sure how something as radical as the Hyde Amendment ever came to be considered by the mainstream to be “middle ground,” but it’s not.  Republicans have just done an excellent job convincing us of such.  And we’re all breathing a sigh of relief because playing defense worked, and things are not as bad as they could have been.

Here’s the problem.  Not enough people were talking about the fact that Virginia was set to become the 8th state to move forward on a mandatory ultrasound bill.  Under the guise of seeking “informed consent” (read: women are too stupid to know what an abortion is), Republicans all over the country have been enacting radical legislation to put up obstacles to women seeking a legal medical procedure.  And in this particular case, it seemed like we’re almost glad they did.  Why?  Because “oh it could have been worse.”

Late this afternoon, the Virginia Senate sent this entire bill back to committee, which effectively kills it for the year since it cannot be reintroduced.  This includes the “personhood” aspect of the main bill, as well as the required ultrasound amendment.  While this is something to celebrate, there are lessons to be learned here.  This was much too close a call for us and we can’t afford to keep making the mistake of caving whenever Republicans seem to back down.

In good news, Democrats are starting to catch on to what a good strategy their’s has been.  In Oklahoma, State Representative Constance Johnson introduced an amendment to the personhood bill stating that “any action in which a man may ejaculate or otherwise deposit semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.”

In Georgia, State Representative Yasmin Neal introduced a bill that would prevent most men from having vasectomies, saying “it is patently unfair that men avoid the rewards of unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly.”

And in Virginia, State Senator Janet Howell introduced an amendment requiring men seeking viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs to first undergo a rectal exam.

Personally, I’d like to see a lot more of these.  Why not a bill mandating free abortions at clinics in every county in the country? (as of 2008, 87% of counties in America did not have abortion clinics).  How about a bill that forces men to volunteer 100 hours one month at a day care center before they can have sex?  Or one that requires men have a colonoscopy before masturbating?

It’s called the Radical Right.  Friends, let’s change the game.  Let’s make the phrase “Radical Left” come to the tongues of the mainstream and see just how crazy we can get.  Then, maybe we can “retreat” and “compromise” on bills that don’t serve to just screw us without our noticing.

In the meantime, as Digby put it, let’s not get distracted by the shiny object – by what’s given to us –  simply call that a victory.  Virginia was about to pass a totally unacceptable piece of legislation that would have restricted women’s rights and led our country even further in the direction of the anti-choice, anti-women zealots.

I wasn’t satisfied with the changes to this bill, and neither should you have been.  I’m keeping a close eye on where they’ll try this tactic next.


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