I wrote earlier this week that Virginia's mandatory ultrasound law was proving to be highly unpopular. But though many its Republican supporters were clearly spooked by the level of opposition, I didn't think it very likely that Governor Bob McDonnell would withdraw his support. Happily, I was wrong. McDonnell came out against the provision, and it will presumably be deleted from the final legislation.
This is good news. But supporters of reproductive freedom should temper their enthusiasm. There's a flip side to the factors that made the ultrasound bill unpopular—the burdens on abortion that fall primarily on women who have less representation in the political process and don't involve bodily invasion will be much harder to defeat. It's also important to remember that several other states have mandatory ultrasound provisions that are as bad or worse than the one that almost passed in Virginia. Irin Carmon's excellent account of the victory in Virginia contains these thoughts from the Texas journalist Andrea Grimes, who notes that the passage of similar legislation in Texas did not produce the same kind of outcry:
As to why Virginia could be different than Texas, where the law is being contested in court but is already being enforced, Grimes said, “In my experience as a Texas feminist, even progressive people just kind of expect that Texas is shitty and backwards and oh well, that’s just what happens there with those poor, ignorant Red Staters so what can you do? But now we’re seeing that Texas … isn’t just the ignorant, backwoods exception to the rule — it’s the inspiration for an increasingly well-organized push to take rights away from women nationwide.”
Of course, strategies that were effective in a purple state like Virginia will not necessarily be effective in a deep-red state like Texas, and it is important that courts start scrutinizing such regulations more carefully and protecting women whose concerns are largely ignored by the political process. But the success in Virginia should nonetheless be an encouraging example. The mandatory ultrasound bills are a particularly striking example of the indifference to the dignity of women that so common among opponents of legal abortion, and is a vivid symbol demonstrating that just because abortion regulations stop short of banning abortion altogether doesn't mean they're harmless. Hopefully this will be a springboard for further victories, both in legislatures and in the courts.
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