Analysis Law and Policy

State-Sanctioned Rape: Trans-Vaginal Ultrasound Laws in Virginia, Texas, and Iowa

Andy Kopsa

Let's start calling these bills what they are: state-sanctioned rape. There is no other way around it.

Virginia is poised to send two of the most abhorrent anti-choice bills to Governor Bob McDonnell to sign. The governor, eyes trained on a vice presidential bid, has indicated he will sign at least one if not both of the bills.

The first is a bill requiring the use of trans-vaginal ultrasound prior to a woman obtaining an abortion, the other is an egg-as-person bill.  Like other failed “personhood” bills, the Virginia provision would outlaw not only abortion but also forms of hormonal birth control. 

Although the Governor has said he will consider the personhood bill he has been clear he would sign the forced ultrasound bill.  But let’s start calling this what it really is: state sanctioned rape.  

In Virginia, rape is defined as the following:

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§ 18.2-61. Rape.

A. If any person has sexual intercourse with a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, or causes a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, to engage in sexual intercourse with any other person and such act is accomplished (i) against the complaining witness’s will, by force, threat or intimidation of or against the complaining witness or another person; or (ii) through the use of the complaining witness’s mental incapacity or physical helplessness; or (iii) with a child under age 13 as the victim, he or she shall be guilty of rape.

I called and emailed McDonnell’s press secretary Jeff Caldwell asking if the forced vaginal ultrasound bill would in-fact overturn the rape statute.  Caldwell did not return my call or email by the time of publication. 

During the debate Republican State Del. Todd Gilbert said:

“the vast majority of these cases [abortion] are matters of lifestyle convenience.” And, 

“We think in matters of lifestyle convenience and in other matters that it is right and proper for a woman to be fully informed about what she is doing.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene said of the ultrasound bill alluding to Gilbert’s ludicrous statement:

“This bill and comments on the House floor show the disrespect anti-choice lawmakers have for women’s personal and private reproductive decisions made with their doctors and their families.”

Gilbert embodies the nature of the debate in one sweeping statement; women choose abortion willy-nilly and women aren’t smart enough to make their own decisions about their bodies so big government and men will (he has since issued an apology.)

The ignorance Gilbert displayed is the norm and I encountered similar stupidity first hand when confronted by a group of men on Facebook regarding the Texas ultrasound law. This is the relevant passage from a my piece written for The Frisky on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

Last week I got into a heated exchange with a group of men on Facebook about abortion.  It was regarding the Texas law requiring a woman view an ultrasound prior to getting an abortion.  The man starting the thread praised the Texas Supreme Court for upholding the ultrasound law.

This opinion piece from The Houston Chronicle (via AlterNet) gives you an idea of what a the government mandated ultrasound law in Texas could mean:

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 88 percent of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, “jelly on the belly,” often cannot produce a clear image. Therefore, a transvaginal probe is most often necessary, especially up to 10 weeks to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called “public servants” who passed and signed this bill into law.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Under the Texas penal code penetration of a woman’s vagina without her consent is sexual assault.  In other words, it is rape  — which is punishable by imprisonment.

In my bizarre Facebook exchange mentioned above, a man brazenly told me rape by the state was analogous to paying taxes, “If you want to talk about government rape, let’s talk about paying taxes to the IRS!”

The conversation deteriorated from there, culminating with a man writing that I was “lucky your mom didn’t abort you” and to shut my “pie hole.”  It would have been simply hilarious if the premise of the conversation weren’t so disturbing.  

And then there is Iowa – Iowa is no stranger to waging war on women’s reproductive rights, it has been the hobby of the religious right there for years.  State GOP Representatives have brought forward three bills; egg-as-person, forced ultrasound and a so-called “Woman’s Right to Know” bill. 

The forced ultrasound bill passed out of a House subcommittee and is on to the full Human Resources Committee – and then its on to the floor for full debate and vote.  This bill is likely to pass out of the House but State Senator Steve Sodders told me (if it did make it out of the house) it would certainly die in the Senate.  The Iowa Senate is the sane chamber dominated by Democrats functioning under the leadership of bulldog Senator Mike Gronstal. 

While it may be true that the ultrasound bill will not pass in Iowa, these attempts at passing forced ultrasound bills and other anti-women legislation must continue to be called out no matter if the bill will pass or not.  And like Texas and Virginia, the Iowa ultrasound bill could lead to forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds.  

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People for the American Way puts it this way when talking about Virgina’s bill but can be applied across the board, “…Virginia’s ultrasound bill takes the war on women to a new level. These politicians aren’t only invading women’s hospital rooms, they’re requiring women to undergo an incredibly invasive procedure without their consent. That’s not only insulting to women, it flies in the face of our values as a free nation.” 

The bottom line is pro-choice legislators in state houses around the country as well as physicians and women’s rights activist must start drawing the clear line between state forced transvaginal ultrasounds and rape.  

Follow me on Twitter @andykopsa

Photo:  Andy Kopsa 

Culture & Conversation Law and Policy

The Modern Struggle Over Anti-Trans Bathroom Laws Has Its Roots in Decades of Title VII Fights

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work, written by Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project, goes beyond cases that helped shape workplace anti-discrimination policies. Rather, it focuses on ten key women whose own lives changed the law.

In 1966, Ida Phillips, a single mother working as a waitress, sat down at her kitchen table and wrote a letter to then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. She told him her story: Despite her qualifications, Phillips had been told by a Martin Marietta employee not to apply for an assembly-line position at one of the construction-material company’s manufacturing plant. The job would have paid more than double what she was making as a waitress. It included a pension plan and insurance, benefits unavailable in most female-dominated industries at the time (and which since have only marginally improved.) The reason Phillips was turned away? She was a woman with a preschool child.

That letter, Phillips’ subsequent lawsuit, and her Supreme Court win would help spark a civil rights revolution in the workplace—one with consequences that reverberate today.

So opens Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Workwritten by Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Women’s Rights Project. Despite its full title, though, Because of Sex goes beyond cases that helped shape workplace anti-discrimination policies, focusing on ten key women whose own lives changed the law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. And it was Phillips’ case, and the nine others profiled in the book, that would ultimately shape that law into one that, decades later, is an important tool in advancing gender and sex equality. As Thomas explained to Rewire in an interview, Title VII it is not just a foundational piece of civil rights legislation important for its historical effect on workplace equality. In the face of anti-transgender bathroom bills and statewide “religious liberties” legislation sweeping the country, it is a crucial tool for pushing equality forward.

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Thomas’ book is organized along three key themes in employment discrimination law: pregnancy-related workplace policies, gender stereotypes in the workplace, and sexual harassment. Those themes act as an inroad toward thinking more broadly about how, in Thomas’ words, we achieve “substantive equality” in the workplace. They illustrate how early fights over promotions and workplace policies that kept women out of certain jobs due to concerns of harming their potential fertility foreshadowed the legal showdowns over contraception coverage in employee health-care plans in cases like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Zubik v. Burwell.

“The subject matter areas that I saw [as a researcher and employment discrimination litigator] were, number one, women’s capacity for pregnancy, and then their subsequent roles as mothers, which, historically, has played a huge role in their second-class status legally,” Thomas told Rewire. “Women of color have always been seen as workers, irrespective of whether they had children, so that’s not an entirely universal stereotype. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that generally pregnancy and motherhood have proven to be enormous conflicts in terms of what equality looks like when you have these distinct differences” in how race and gender are perceived.

Take, for instance, the case of Peggy Young and the question whether an employer can refuse to make on-the-job accommodations for pregnant employees when it does so for nonpregnant employees. Young, another one of the women featured in Thomas’ book, was a United Parcel Service (UPS) “air driver” who became pregnant. When Young told her employer she was pregnant, UPS told her they couldn’t accommodate the light-lifting recommendation made by Young’s medical providers. Instead, UPS told Young, she would have to take unpaid medical leave for the remainder of her pregnancy.

In March 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against UPS, vacating the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had supported UPS’ policy. The decision produced a new test for assessing pregnancy discrimination claims and sent Young’s case back to the lower courts for another look. Not long after the Roberts Court’s decision, UPS and Young settled the lawsuit, bringing an end to Young’s case.

The decision was a qualified win for advocates. The Roberts Court had accepted Young’s argument that UPS had no legitimate business reason for failing to accommodate her particular request, but the decision went short of ruling businesses must accommodate any pregnancy request.

But Because of Sex doesn’t stop at unpacking overt discrimination like the kind detailed in Young’s 2015 case or Phillips’ one in 1966. The book also takes a look at what the law has described as more “benevolent” kinds of discrimination. These include employment policies designed to “protect” women from endangering possible future pregnancies, such as prohibiting women employees from working jobs where they may be exposed to hazardous chemicals.

“It really all boils down to two issues that we are talking about in all these things,” Thomas explained, when discussing workplace policies that, employers have argued, were put in place to protect their female employees from potentially endangering a pregnancy. “One is [employers] ignoring hazards that apply to men and making women into baby-making machines. And number two is [employers] treating health effects or health hazards on the job as reasons for diminishing women’s opportunities, instead of arming women with information and assuming that they will make the right choice for themselves.”

This disconnect is most apparent in the case of United Automobile Workers vJohnson Controls, Inc., another case Thomas highlights in her book. In 1982, the car battery manufacturer Johnson Controls sent a memorandum to all its employees that said “[w]omen who are pregnant or who are capable of bearing children will not be placed into jobs involving lead exposure or which would expose them to lead through the exercise of job bidding, bumping, transfer or promotion rights.”

The policy amounted to a demotion for many female employees and a closed door for others.

Title VII actually permits employers, in a limited context, to have employment policies that discriminate on their face, such as policies that permit churches to only hire members of the same faith. Johnson Controls argued its policy of keeping women out of certain positions due to employer concerns of health risks to future pregnancies fit within Title VII’s narrow window for permitting explicit discrimination.

The Supreme Court would eventually rule in 1991 that Johnson Controls’ policy violated Title VII because it forced female employees to have to choose “between having a child and having a job,” thereby rejecting the argument made by Johnson Control’s that a woman’s fertility—or infertility—can in most situations be considered a bona fide occupational qualification.

As Thomas noted in her book, “It was no coincidence that fetal protection politics were most prevalent in well-paid, unionized industries from which women historically had been excluded. Indeed they had been excluded precisely because they had been deemed physically unsuited for the dirty, sometimes strenuous work.”

But “in female-dominated fields, though, fetal protection policies made no business sense; they effectively would gut the workforce. That reality apparently trumped any hypothetical harm to employees’ future pregnancies,” Thomas wrote.

In other words, these policies didn’t exist in female-dominated fields.

Johnson Controls may have helped grant women the agency to determine how and when they earned a paycheck with regard to policies targeting their potential fertility, but it hardly ended the debate around when and how employers attempt to diminish women’s opportunities related to their roles as potential mothers. This has played out in the hundreds of lawsuits over the contraception benefit, for example.

In other words, if Johnson Controls had settled the question of whether a woman’s fertility was an appropriate grounds for discrimination, we would not have Hobby Lobby.

Because of Sex draws another connection between the historical fight over Title VII and the contemporary one: How do employers adjust workplace policies around shifting gender norms, and when is it discriminatory if they don’t?

The law asks, “What are women supposed to want to do?” said Thomas in her interview with Rewire. “What work are they able to do? What work do they want to do? [Given] assumptions and stereotypes that are about their abilities, their preferences, their interests and how [they are] conforming to [those] in terms of stereotypes about what femininity is—what [are] women … supposed to look and act like?”

Gender nonconforming behavior, and the manner in which employees experience discrimination as a result of that behavior, is a key component over the debate around transgender rights. But it would take a “shrill” woman and the birth of the notion of “workplace harassment” to get us and the law there first.

By every measure, Ann Hopkins should have been made a partner in the global accounting firm Price Waterhouse. She was smart. Ambitious. Worked hard and constantly outperformed her peers. But it was those very attributes that her male partners deemed “too aggressive” or as evidence that she needed “charm school,” and ultimately used to deny her a partnership that by every objective measure she had earned.

The Supreme Court would ultimately disagree. In 1989, it ruled Hopkins should have been made a partner and that the comments relating to her demeanor amounted to improper gender stereotyping, a violation of Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions.

If Hopkins was initially shut out of workplace advancement due to her defiance of feminine stereotypes, so too are women subjected to on-the-job harassment, as Thomas draws out in Because of Sex. “Sexual harassment didn’t even have a name in 1974, but was such a prevalent force driving women out of the work force, driving them into different jobs [and] subjugating them just generally in terms of the identity as sexual objects on the job,” Thomas further explained in her interview.

1974 was the year Mechelle Vinson first hired a lawyer to represent her in a case against her boss, who was chronically sexually abusing her on the job. But at the time, courts largely wrote off those kinds of complaints as a kind of chasing-around-the-office, and not sexual harassment, or in Vinson’s case, on-the-job rape. As described by Thomas in her book, “throughout the 1970s, many courts responded to complaints about abusive bosses with a collective shrug that conveyed, ‘You can’t blame a guy for trying.'”

“Sexual harassment was such a prevalent force driving women out of the workforce, driving them into different jobs, and subjugating them just generally in terms of the identity as sexual objects on the job,” Thomas told Rewire.

That “you can’t blame a guy for trying” attitude hasn’t completely gone away as far as the federal courts are concerned. After all, in 2013 the Roberts Court in Vance v. Ball State made it even harder for employees to bring workplace harassment suits, and employees still face losing jobs for “being too cute” or having their sexuality be a perceived threat to their employer’s ability to remain professional in the workplace.

Which is why, in the fight over transgender bathroom access in 2016, Title VII should be a powerful force in defeating these latest attempts to stymie social progress. The idea that “you can’t blame a guy for trying” has morphed into “how the hell can we police gender roles if we don’t know where you pee.” That’s thanks almost entirely to the manner in which the law has wrestled with gender stereotypes under Title VII, Thomas explained.

In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing workplace anti-discrimination laws, issued the landmark decision Macy v. Holder, which held that employment discrimination based on transgender status was a form of unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Then in 2015, it issued a ruling stating that denying employees access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity is also a violation of Title VII. Meanwhile several federal courts of appeals have ruled that Title VII protects against gender identity discrimination.

But the Roberts Court has yet to weigh in.

“I think sexual orientation in a way is the sort of a final frontier” in Title VII litigation, said Thomas. “The court seems really fixated on this idea of analogizing very precisely from Hopkins. In other words, if you look or act in a way that doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes then, OK, [the courts] can understand that’s sex discrimination,” said Thomas. “But if your identity is not conforming to stereotypes in that you, you know, are romantically attracted to someone of your sex, that is harder for [the courts] to get, even though it’s obviously the most obvious manifestation of stereotype.”

This is, in many ways, a fight that started in the workplace—one that eventually got the backing of the Obama administration before becoming a flashpoint of conservative election-cycle politics. Thomas’ book doesn’t close on a prediction of what the next big Title VII fight will be per se, but it is impossible to finish it and not see the narrative threads of the historical fight for workplace equality woven throughout the the contemporary one. Sex. Gender. How the law understands and navigates the two. All this is what makes Thomas’ Because of Sex the closest thing to an assigned reading I can make.

News Abortion

Forced Waiting Period, Mandated Ultrasound Measures Go Down in Colorado

Jason Salzman

“Women of color and immigrant women already face significant obstacles to obtaining health care," Victoria Gómez Betancourt, spokesperson for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, said at a news conference. "This means that any extra hoops and hurdles created by these bills will impact already marginalized women most of all."

Colorado pro-choice groups wielded an ultrasound wand in their fight against a GOP-backed bill mandating a 24-hour waiting period and the offer of an ultrasound before a patient could receive abortion care.

Democrats on the state House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee, joined by one Republican, killed the bill late Thursday.

Holding up the device at a news conference Thursday prior to a hearing on the legislation, NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado’s Executive Director Karen Middleton said, “We are talking about a ten-inch-long medical instrument being inserted into a woman’s vagina. Frankly, I do not believe that kind of legislation passes the grimace test of most Colorado voters regardless of gender.”

To capture fetal activity and imagery during the first trimester, an ultrasound wand is used, rather than the “jelly on the belly” ultrasound procedure employed later in pregnancy, Middleton said.

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“In Virginia,” Middleton continued, “They coined the phrase, ‘Government small enough to fit in one’s vagina.’ That’s not OK with me, and it’s not OK with Colorado health-care providers.”

To emphasize the point, Middleton pulled out a ruler and measured the eight-inch portion of the ultrasound wand that’s inserted.

The bill’s proponents argue that the ultrasound and other information required by the bill is aimed at making sure pregnant people are fully informed about abortion care.

“This is a wonderful bill,” Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Colorado Springs), said Tuesday on KLZ-560-AM’s Rush to Reason show. “The bill is rather simple. It just says a woman has the ability to see an ultrasound prior to an abortion.”

Along with the forced waiting period, the bill mandates not only that pregnant people have the “opportunity” to see an ultrasound of the “unborn child portraying the entire body,” but also that abortion patients are provided with an “oral description of the ultrasound” and the “presence or absence of a heartbeat,” the age of the fetus, and a description of the “child’s ability to feel pain at each stage of development.”

“Statistics show that, I think it’s, some 90 percent of women who actually see the ultrasound before an abortion decide not to go through with it,” said Neville on air. “For [Planned Parenthood], it hurts their revenue stream. So they are not going to like the bill.”

Neville, who chairs the committee that struck down the measure Thursday, did not return a call seeking the source for his figure of 90 percent. The fact-checking organization PolitiFact concluded that a similar statement, made by conservative pundit Rachel Campos-Duffy, was “false.”

The bill, along with a similar measure quashed last year by Colorado Democrats, appears to be based on copycat legislation created by the national anti-choice organization known as Americans United for Life.

A bill mandating ultrasounds prior to an abortion was struck down in 2014 by a North Carolina court. It was not heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, on grounds that it forced doctors to deliver politically motivated speech, even if a patient didn’t want to hear it.

Neville emphasized that this year’s legislation does not mandate an ultrasound, as last year’s did, but instead requires doctors to offer a patient the option of having one. Opponents interpret the language as requiring the procedure, with an option to see the results.

“This bill would turn a ten-minute procedure into a multi-day ordeal, and place the heaviest burden on low-income and minority women who can’t afford to take two days off of work or pay for overnight lodging,” Aaron Lazorwitz, an OB-GYN resident physician, said at the pre-hearing news conference. “Additionally, a 24-hour waiting period means physicians like myself would have to schedule twice as many appointments for each abortion, essentially cutting our ability to see patients in half and limiting access to care for all women.”

Pro-choice advocates echoed Lazorwitz’s comments.

“Women of color and immigrant women already face significant obstacles to obtaining health care, including: poverty, lack of transportation, linguistic and cultural barriers, and restrictions on health care for immigrant women,” Victoria Gómez Betancourt, spokesperson for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), said at the news conference. “This means that any extra hoops and hurdles created by these bills will impact already marginalized women most of all.”

State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) is the prime sponsor of the bill. Woods is pushing the anti-choice legislation despite warnings that her staunch anti-choice stances may result in her losing her senate seat in November, which would cost the GOP its slim state senate majority.