In the realm of women and their pregnancies, there are two basic types of ultrasounds. There’s the type folks commonly think of being performed on a pregnant woman’s belly. This type entails the jelly, the transducer that fits in the palm of the technician’s hand, the screen with the captured image of a fetus, and the proud parental assumption that that shadowy oblong shape is the biggest penis ever seen on a fetus. Nonetheless, it’s a sweetly benign image, stereotyped in popular media and other fantasies.
Of course, such external ultrasounds are used to view inside many parts of the body and for a grand variety of diagnostic purposes.
But there’s another type that’s not so warm and fuzzy: Transvaginal ultrasounds involve a darn long probe that is inserted into a woman’s vagina to capture images. In normal pregnancies, transvaginal ultrasounds are not typically necessary, although, if there’s some concern in very early-term pregnancies, they are sometimes used because the jelly-on-the-belly type ultrasound cannot capture an image clear enough for diagnostic purposes until the fetus is more developed.
Other times, transvaginal ultrasounds are not diagnostic at all: Instead, legislators who are opposed to legal abortion have passed, or have attempted to pass, legislation that forces women seeking abortions to undergo medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds. In these cases, the obvious purpose is to discourage abortions. The Guttmacher Institute reports on such legislation, and, along with other measures intended to reduce or prevent access to legal abortion, these efforts are plentiful and they often work.
To some women, the prospect of a transvaginal ultrasound is adequately intimidating or degrading or expensive, to send them home without the abortions they seek. Others gird their loins and go forward, exercising their reproductive rights while railing at the elected officials who would intervene in their nether regions. And some women consider having their vaginas penetrated by a stranger against their will, and without medical necessity, rape.
I am unable to disagree with them. However, the legislators and anti-abortion activists who would force such unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds on women insist they are not rape, but, rather, demonstrations of their deep concern for women’s safety. I am unable to agree with them.
Recently, Indiana State Senator Travis Holdman (R) introduced Senate Bill 371, which would require two ultrasounds for women prescribed the oral drug RU-486 to terminate their pregnancies. The first ultrasound would be performed before the drug’s administration, to confirm the pregnancy, and the second one, afterward, to confirm that the abortion was successful. But, because RU-486 can only be used in very early-term pregnancies, when a “jelly-on-the-belly” ultrasound cannot produce a clear image, Holdman’s bill essentially mandates two medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds.
His rationale for the bill? That the ultrasounds will ensure women’s safety. Quelle surprise!
I suspect the truth is that Holdman and the members of the Indiana Senate Health and Provider Services Committee who voted for SB 371, sending it to the full Senate for a vote, really just want to stick it—figuratively and literally—to women who wish to terminate their pregnancies.
I wonder, though, if the female senators who voted for SB 371 might feel differently if they were forced to be probed vaginally to determine pregnancy before being prescribed oral contraception, because there’s a teeny tiny little risk that birth control pills can affect a fetus.
And I wonder if the male committee members might be similarly swayed, were they facing forced transrectal ultrasound probes before they could be prescribed erectile dysfunction drugs.
It’s a safe assumption that Indiana’s state legislators don’t want an unwelcomed appliance forced into their bodily orifices, any more than women seeking abortions do. But those who would force women to be subjected to transvaginal probes, might benefit from having intimate knowledge of the invasive procedure before casting their votes on SB 371.
Perhaps anal or vaginal probes should be a mandated prerequisite for voting in support of SB 371.
If you’d like to share your thoughts about SB 371 with Sen. Holdman, you can email his office at Senator.Holdman@iga.in.gov or use this form (if you don’t have an address in his district, his office address will make it more likely that your email message will transmit: 2467 W. 1000 North, Markle, IN 46770).
* This phrase is a wee bit of appropriation from the film Passion Fish.