Virginia is for lovers, unless you love women’s rights

By:
03/01/2012

With presidential campaigns intensifying in the face of the upcoming elections, attention has recently been drawn to the state of Virginia and its numerous reproductive rights bills targeting issues like contraception and the definition of personhood. News of these bills, currently being discussed in the state’s legislature, has spread over the past few weeks, appearing across the country on news channels, political satire shows, and even Saturday Night Live.
Under these bills, a fetus would have the same rights as a person from the moment of fertilization, and restrictions on contraception would be outlined. Further, a number of the proposed bills would curb health insurance coverage and funding of health centers that provide abortions. The most well known of these bills is House Bill 462, which requires any woman who wants an abortion to get an ultrasound during which she could see the fetus and hear its heartbeat. Medical practitioners would have to verify the procedure, and the state would verify whether or not the woman chose to look at or listen to the fetus.
Just last week, cries of “state-sponsored rape” were heard across the nation about the bill, as at the time it required an internal, transvaginal ultrasound if the fetus was too young to detect with an external ultrasound. Leaving out opinions on abortion, inserting a foreign object into an unwilling female looks to many people like forceful sexual assault. Within the past few days, however, the governor of Virginia has assured that the ultrasound would not be invasive.
Each of these bills would make getting an abortion much more difficult, if not impossible. They are designed to shame the woman, or tack challenging requirements onto the procedure. The ambiguous wording of these bills has also perplexed Virginia’s citizens and stoked fear of the possible consequences of their enforcement if the bill is ratified. For instance, some fear that the personhood bill, which has reportedly stalled in the House of Representatives, may specify that not reporting a miscarriage will be grounds to suspect that the fetus has been illegally terminated and evidence for criminal punishment.
There has been a fervent backlash across the country to the proposed legislature, including from many Virginians. However, the loudest rumblings about these controversial bills are from women and in politics. The Republican primary race, since touching on birth control issues in recent debates, is still reeling to fix damage from comments along the same lines of the Virginia bills made by prospective presidential candidates regarding the current administration’s birth control policy. Encouraging disapproval of Republicans among women, who represent more than half of the population, cannot be something the party is aiming for at this time. Likewise, the independent and moderate voters that decide the outcome of presidential elections could now be out of Republican reach. The controversy in Virginia, largely brought about by its conservative politicians, is in no way helping to resolve this political fiasco.
If these laws are passed, women will feel the most detrimental effects on their reproductive rights. No woman plans to have an abortion, but when faced with a drastic medical circumstance, all women should be able to make the best decision for their health and livelihood. This decision is being endangered by the personhood bill. Ignoring opinions on abortion, it is ludicrous to assume that the first instinct of a woman who experiences a miscarriage is to not to turn to her husband or family, to assess her medical situation, or even cry, but rather to report it to the government to prove that she is innocent of damaging her fetus. Many women who experience a miscarriage already feel guilty and blame themselves, wondering if they could have changed something to prevent such an occurrence. These bills place women’s health on the sociopolitical backburner.
In fact, the supposition that abortions will never occur if they are illegal or difficult to access is almost equally ridiculous. Abortions will always happen, and if there is a lack of counseling, communication, or medical support, there will be an increase in abortions that are desperate and potentially lethal. I do not mean to argue for abortion, but rather to point out the failures of legislation that ignores the negative outcomes that could arise from suppressing women’s contraceptive and emotional rights. These bills represent the worst step for women’s health in over a hundred years.
In the next few weeks, it will be interesting to follow feminist reactions to these pieces of legislature. Feminists are hardly ecstatic over something that disregards women’s emotions after suffering events like miscarriage or rape, and forces unnecessary procedures and possible restrictions to contraceptive access. The female gender has been determinedly fighting for equality since before the invention of the birth control, and these recent pushes for legislation prove that this fight is far from over.

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Ana Smith Ana Smith is a member of the College class of 2015. She majored in Biology of Global Health, premed, and minored in French.


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