The Bill of the Year: Menstrual Search Warrants

Monty Python’s Church Police, a famous sketch we can now watch being played out in Virginia politics.

By Steve Haner

Now here’s a phrase I never expected to type, even in a blog post: menstrual data. Looks like the 2023 Virginia General Assembly will be best remembered down the road for a silly bill that sparked a very avoidable stumble and then turned into a National Thing.

Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) was even the target of well-publicized staged outrage from the Biden Administration, suddenly diverted from balloon- watching by a nationwide flood of search warrants seeking data on women’s periods. Except there don’t actually seem to be any such search warrants and there may not actually be any interest in such information.

The bill in search of a problem was put in to create a political dilemma. It was a trap. Youngkin and too many other Republicans then obliged and stuck their heads and shoulders into the obvious, gaping maw and waited for the trap to spring. The Biden Administration’s response is probably less of a problem than the ridicule coming from late night television, social media and the Fake News establishment, which has totally twisted the situation.

The Guardian provided the perfect example of that, using Twitter to spread the lie that “Virginia Governor clears path for extreme bill allowing police to seek menstrual histories.” False. A Twitter message from Virginia Democrats decried “Governor Youngkin’s recent attempts to supply women’s menstrual data to law enforcement.”Also false.

There is no bill to allow such warrants, and no push from anybody to “supply” anything. We truly are divided in this country into the evil party and the stupid party. The evil party has no hesitation about lying. But the stupid party gives them just enough rope for a tightly knotted noose.

Here again is the bill in question. As anybody who reads it can see, it is a proposal to add a specific restriction to Virginia’s otherwise quite broad search warrant authority. No such search exemption for specific data now exists in the law, so this was the legislative equivalent of a case of first impression. It is a fair point that adding one such exception could lead to more.

It passed the Senate with Republican members divided down the middle, nine of the 18 voting for it, including the best-informed member on this issue, senator and obstetrician Dr. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico). Then a House subcommittee killed it on a party-line vote after Youngkin’s spokesperson weighed in against it.

Whether or not Virginia should prohibit search warrants for medical information in criminal cases is a valid question. Whether there are now or may soon be regular efforts by law enforcement to obtain menstrual data or information by criminal search warrant is also a valid question. If such an exception is needed, whether it should extend beyond menstrual to other information is a valid question.

But anybody could predict that votes of “nay” on the bill were going to be turned into political baseball bats. The singular focus on one highly personal element of medical information was a dead giveaway. This was about politics, not questions of privacy versus law enforcement. A political leg trap needs to be dealt with by a political sidestep.

One excellent and traditional response in situations where the hot potato is a new idea is to refer such a bill to a study group, and in this case two come immediately to mind. One is the standing crime commission, which has lawyers, law enforcement officers and other specialists who could research whether such warrants are happening, might happen, and why, and what the harm would be if they were prevented. Virginia also has a standing health commission, where the focus might be first on patient privacy and second on law enforcement.

Another “gentle as a dove, wise as a serpent” response might have been to expand the bill to more categories of medical data and then send it back to the Senate. How about all the data recorded by health trackers on people’s wrists? They have GPS data the police might actually care more about than somebody’s exercise habits (do the menstrual trackers?)

My first reaction on reading the bill was that it was so broad somebody could refuse to turn over their entire personal computer with all its damning evidence simply because they’d recorded some menstrual data. If that was the patron’s intention, it could have been flushed out with an amendment on that front, to not let that prevent access to other items on the computer.

Why somebody in the Governor’s office felt compelled to express an opinion on the bill at all, in an open committee meeting, is impossible to fathom. See her do it here if you can access Twitter. Finding themselves in a deep hole, they continue to dig.

The tone of the 2023 session is all the warning we need of the tone to expect in the coming campaigns for 140 House and Senate seats. This bill will become a major topic, count on it, along with all the other social issues where Youngkin and legislative Republicans are dug in on the right flank. Another example was killing off all proposals to remove the now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage in the Virginia Constitution.

It’s like none of them have ever read through the poll crosstab line on “independent voters.”

The 2023 elections will not be decided on questions of tax policy or economic development. Debate in vain over energy policy. Folks can try to make the focus law enforcement and public safety, but now all those will be answered with Monty Pythonesque responses about the Period Police (think of their church police or Spanish Inquisition bits.) Stephen Colbert has already invented an anti-menstrual crime squad he calls NCPMS. What can you say? It’s funny.

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2 responses to “The Bill of the Year: Menstrual Search Warrants”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Pretty soon, Steve, the House Republican Caucus is going to come knocking on your door in an attempt to get someone on board who has some savvy about the legislative process and politics.

    I would have thought Gilbert or Rob Bell would have intervened with some direction along the lines you suggested. They have certainly been around long enough and how to play the game.

  2. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    If the basic premise of the course is America stinks because America’s European settlers were the worst racists in human history, and still are, then yes, I can imagine some controversy. Likewise demands that the solution is racism in reverse (cleverly dubbed “anti-racism.”) It is hard not to find that theme in anything Democrats produce these days. Case in point, Richmond City’s new “climate plan”, which I really need to report on in depth….

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