By Peter Galuszka
Forty two years ago, a feminist group titled “the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective” got together to start researching their own books about female health since they distrusted what they considered the male-dominated medical establishment.
A substantial part of their research had to deal with birth control since the pill had been out for several years although the Roe vs. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, allowing limited abortion, was still three years away. Their book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” became a best-seller.
Flash forward 42 years to Virginia. The General Assembly is embroiled in a fiasco over conservative attempts to force-introduce state power into the sexual lives of women through laws that would force women exercising their legal right to an abortion to have ultrasound exams in their first trimester of pregnancy to somehow shame them into not going through with the procedure. Another would declare “personhood” as being that point when an egg is fertilizer and a human life is created.
The result, of course, has been one of the biggest legislative disasters in years. Virginia is the butt of jokes on Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show. Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s multi-year-young effort to recast himself from social to moderate conservative is in shambles, his future in national politics in doubt.
So, how did we get here? The story appears to be one of ignorance and incompetence, so very unlike what happened in Boston four decades ago. The key issue is that legislators apparently didn’t understand that to determine the age of a fetus accurately, the use of a probe that is put inside a woman’s vagina is needed. They had apparently assumed that the ultrasound could be achieved in a less upsetting way by smearing the pregnant woman’s abdomen with a jell and then using a sound wand. According to The Washington Post, Sen. George Baker, a Fairfax Democrat had doubts and asked fellow Democrat, Sen. Ralph S. Northam, a doctor from Norfolk, who said he’d check. It turned out that yes, an invasive vaginal probe was needed.
The news completely changed the politics of the bill. But one wonders why legislators didn’t know this from the beginning. If they did, they weren’t exactly forthcoming about it.
One answer could be by studying the background of Del. Kathy Bryon, a Lynchburg Republican, who has been a legislator since the late 1990s. She introduced one of the bills that would require the transvaginal ultrasound. Ms. Bryon is a grandmother whose personal education did not go beyond high school. She worships at Thomas Road Baptist Church, home base for the late and controversial televangelist Jerry Falwell. When not working on public matters, she and her husband run a small telemarketing company.
Bryon was also an official of the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, a body set up back in the late 1990s to handle hundreds of millions of dollars in funding the state is receiving from a 1996 lawsuit with 45 other states against four big tobacco firms, including Phillip Morris USA. The Commission was supposed to use some of its funds to help out tobacco belt towns with economic development projects.
It did get a black eye when its former executive director, John Forbes II was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for diverting $4 million from an alleged educational program to his own use. Although Bryon was not been linked to the Forbes scandal, she has been criticized for helping arrange a $12 million grant in public, tobacco fund money to help build the “Center for Health and Medical Sciences.” It is part of Lynchburg’s Liberty University, which, of course, is a religious school affiliated with the late Jerry Falwell’s church.
Thus, Byron’s involvement seems one of local political logrolling, Lynchburg-style, than a sophisticated understanding of women’s health issues. A case in point: the ultra-conservatives pushing the ultrasound idea didn’t get the difference between a transvaginal probe and a sticky abdominal jell and just how the former presented an even more profound violation to a woman’s rights. The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court says she has a right to an abortion in limited cases makes Bryon’s ignorance and activism even more disturbing.There are currently no comments highlighted.