“Our Bodies; “Our Idiot Selves”

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.

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10 responses to ““Our Bodies; “Our Idiot Selves”

  1. Peter, I’ve got a question (and I’m not being flippant or sarcastic here — I’m just trying to understand your logic)….

    You said, Republican 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.”

    So far, so good. Then you wrote:

    “The news completely changed the politics of the bill. But one wonders why legislators didn’t know this from the beginning. .. [Del. Kathy Bryon, a Lynchburg Republican] introduced one of the bills that would require the transvaginal ultrasound.”

    If Bryon introduced a bill that required transvaginal ultrasound instead of abdominal ultrasound, it sounds like she knew what she was doing. Is your point that she introduced her bill only *after* the original legislation was submitted and everyone learned that an abdominal ultrasound would not suffice to determine the age of the fetus?

    Just trying to get a clear picture here…

  2. Why do you bring up the Forbes scandal when, as you concede, Bryon has not been linked to it?

    As for the $12 million grant to Liberty University’s “Center for Health and Medical Sciences,” be careful about characterizing her involvement as “logrolling,” the definition of which is “the exchange of support or favors, especially by legislators for mutual political gain as by voting for each other’s bills.” The term has a very negative connotation, and none of the evidence you present supports it.

    You can make a case that Bryon does not have a sophisticated command of women’s medical issues. Fair enough. But neither you nor the article you cite offer any support for the notion that “logrolling” took place. Bryon, along with thousands of other Lynchburg residents, is a *member* of the Thomas Road Baptist Church. The church is “affiliated” with Liberty University. Bryon also served on the board of the Tobacco Commission. That’s all you’ve got!

    Your post would have been a lot stronger if you’d stuck to the medical and ethical issues.

  3. Jim,
    Funny but no one seemed to notice the “transvaginal” and completely violating part of these horrid bills until some Democratic doctors looked it up. It turned out to be so abusive and so wrong that it has blown up. As far as Thomas Road, that is fair game. Jerry Falwell was a shameless politician and huckster for years, not to mention fundraiser of dubious character. Ms. Bryon is fair game, too. as far as the Tobacco Commission and being a state legislator.The money she was playing with is “public” funding. There was plenty of odd stuff going on the Tobacco Commission even if there is no apparent direct link between her and the discredited Forbes. It was like a gigantic spending kitty with little controls. One of the first things the Commission did was give out thousands of dollars to tobacco “quota holders” even they might live in Las Vegas or the Gold Coast of Chicago. Don’t remember. You should. You edited my story!
    Meanwhile, I do appreciate your advice about how to make my blog postings “stronger.” In the same spirit, I’ll be watching your anti-union goosechases at the MWAA, too. You also should try to s;piffy up your apologia.

  4. My understanding is that most proposed legislation has to be vetted by legislative stuff to make sure it’s not CRAP and that it is known what it’s impacts will be. The staff also does a Financial Analysis to see what it will cost to implement.

    Either this was not done or a crappy job of it was done.

  5. Well that’s three articles in a row documenting the zany antics of the Clown Show in Richmond. This is a banner day.

    However, the real point is being missed. The ultrasound that was proposed ahead of an abortion had nothing to do with determining the age of the fetus. It was an unnecessary procedure designed to shame the woman into abandoning the abortion after seeing the image of the fetus. The use of fetal age was merely a contrivance to make the bill seem more legitimate. The fact that the General Assembly blundered through the basic biology is just another example of its incompetence.

    The personhood bill is another Clown Show special. The adherents claim it has nothing to do with abortion. Rather, they say, it is necessary in order to confer legal rights to a fetus in case the fetus is injured or killed by the negligence of others.

    If you believe that, I have the P3 rights to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and I’d like to “lease” those rights to you.

    The bill’s patron, Bob Marshall, is an outspoken anti-abortion crusader. If the Republicans in the Clown Show really wanted to confer legal rights to a fetus without affecting abortion Marshall would be the very last person they should have asked to patron the bill.

  6. well.. here’s the problem. Several states ALREADY have what sounds like similar laws.

    but we are told that in at least some cases an external ultra-sound will not provide enough info to determine the age of the fetus.

    but if the whackos that wanted the bill regardless of whether enough info was provided (or not) because their intent was really to penalize those who wanted abortion..then why did it gets into this aspect anyhow?

    why not require ONLY external ultrasound – no matter it’s efficacy anyhow?

    who actually decided that real information was necessary anyhow?

    and let’s say you were a legislator who supported this for ideological reasons anyhow.. WHY IN The WORLD would you ALLOW the bill to drift into the trans-vaginal world .. if you knew this would mean big political trouble?

    over and over.. I end up with the conclusion that either the right wing in the Va Ga is dumber than a stump OR they are really so ideological that if those who elected them really knew their real philosophy..they’d never be elected or let’s say.. not ENOUGH of them would be elected to allow anything remotely like this to escape from committee to start with.

    this is a breathtaking display of hubris or stupidity or .. both.

    these are the same fools who talk about education and transportation… and then on their alternate days..trans-vaginal philosophy.

  7. LarryG … you’re getting close. Once you realize that the left wing in Va is as hopeless as the right wing … you’ll have it.

    Remember that $1B in transportation funds that Tim Kaine lost as he was closing the highway rest rooms to save money?

  8. Jim says live and let live. for the most part that’s most liberals ethic. It’s NOT most GOP ethic.

    Kaine did the UDAs and the 527 analysis. they were contributions. I’m convinced he closed the rest areas in an attempt to convince the GA to address transpo funding but McD successfully used it against him.

    In terms of “finding” money – keep in mind that even though McD DID FIND stranded money – it was ONE TIME money – not a permanent funding source and the rest areas need a permanent funding source once the recovered stranded money runs out.

    also recognize that when that stranded money was recovered, it was recovered by officially killing the projects that were allocated that money.

    so what McD really did was kill some highway projects and used the money to fund the rest areas. peter, paul, et al.

  9. Vaginal ultrasound is replaced by regular ultrasound. Are we progressive, or what?

  10. If you’re right wing – that’s what passes for “progressive”.

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