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Dax Murray

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When Young Women Speak Out: Virginia Edition


This post was originally published on Amplify Your Voice. I am currently interning with Advocates for Youth, and blogging on state policy is one of my duties.

On Saturday, March 3, protestors met in Richmond, VA to show their anger at the mandatory ultrasound law. This law would require women in Virginia who are seeking abortion to obtain an ultrasound twenty four hours in advance of the procedure, and to have the doctor describe it to them in detail.

Antichoice lawmakers, and antichoice lobbyists, often test legislation in one or two states, see what they can and cannot get passed, figure out what kind of climate that law needs to be in to pass, and then have it exported to other states. This is what is happening all over right now, as the climate is right for these bills to pass. Last year roughly 80 laws which restricted abortion access were passed at the state level. 

The momentum is continuing this year with the ultrasound laws. Antichoice advocates frame the ultrasound as a harmless procedure, and use faux-feminist empowerment language to sell it. Often this language is paternalistic and has an underlying assumption that women do not know what abortion is, don’t think about it, and are not aware of what pregnancy is. They try to fame it as “A Woman’s Right To Know,” or making sure women are able to give “informed consent,” and ensuring that women have “all the facts.” Right to know what? That she is terminating a pregnancy? They underlying assumption is that women just walk into abortion clinics without really knowing what they are there for. It’s insulting to women, and to the people who trust them. 60% of women seeking abortion have given birth at least once. They know what pregnancy is. 

The Virginia ultrasound law was imported from Texas, where it is in effect, but still being held up in court on challenges. The specific language of the bill, at first, required that the best possible picture for the ultrasound be obtained. For women in their first trimester (when most abortions occur), this would mean they would have to be subjected to an invasive transvaginal ultrasound, instead of the transabdominal (the “jelly on the belly” ultrasound that most people think of), and that the image be described to them in detail by their doctor. The language of the bill was modified so that the transvaginal would be optional, but an ultrasound of some sort would still be required.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the National Abortion Federation, both agree that it is medically unnecessary for a woman seeking a first trimester abortion receive an ultrasound, unless the physician has cause to believe that there might be complications, or if the pregnancy cannot be accurately dated using the woman’s last menstrual period or other measures. 

These bills, the first of which went into effect in 1996 in Utah, seek to shame and humiliate women seeking abortion. Currently 11 states have laws regarding ultrasounds prior to abortions. They range from requiring that doctors offer it, to the Virginia law which requires a description. Most recent studies (one published in 2009, and one currently being conducted by the University of California San Francisco) found that women do not change their minds upon viewing of the ultrasound. Researchers from both suggest that an ultrasound be offered, but none of the women in the 2009 study changed their minds, and preliminary results from the current study are finding the same thing. 

These laws seek to dictate medical practice to doctors; putting the legislature directly into the procedure room, and dictate to women that what they are doing is shameful and they should be punished.

Ultrasound laws usually require, as is the case in Virginia and Texas, that it be done 24 hours in advance of the abortion. This requires the woman to make two appointments, take two days off from work, arrange childcare for those two visits, if she lives far away she must also arrange lodging, and to accept these extra costs, and the lost wages as well. For low income women, this is an undue burden. 

AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Eva Russo
(AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Eva Russo)

This is why women of Virginia protested on Saturday. And they were arrested.
Many of these protestors were young women, for some this might have been the first time they had to stand up for their rights. Many young people did not think we would have to continue the fight of our mothers and grandmothers. They fought that battle for us, and we became the women who always had abortion and birth control available for us. 
According to the police list, the median age of those arrested was 26 years old, with the youngest arrested being 19 years old. 

Continuing the recent trend of using unnecessary force to remove and silence protestors, these young women were met with police in riot gear, bearing rifles. They were loaded into the back of a converted school buses with barred windows. According to police, this was the first mass arrest in 26 years.

“They were marching and chanting for women’s rights, and what did they face? SWAT teams, state police in full riot gear, police armed with semiautomatic guns and dogs — dogs. Not since the massive resistance days of the 1960s have I seen such a disgraceful display of excessive police presence.” – Sen. Janet D. Howell

The verbal attacks on Sandra Fluke, a young woman who spoke up about birth control access, by Rush Limbaugh, and the twitter attacks by Patricia Heaton, combined with this show of police hostility, shows that society is uncomfortable with young women speaking up. Society does not like that us young women are getting angry about the gradual erosion of our rights.

But we need to continue to speak up, be heard, and fight. I never thought we would have to fight this battle again, but we cannot allow the police, or public figures to intimidate or silence us.