Commentary Law and Policy

On Clueless Congressmen and Trans-vaginal Ultrasounds

Robyn Swirling

Rep. Sean Duffy  “probably agrees” with mandatory transvaginal ultrasound legislation. But he doesn’t really know because, he says, “I haven’t had one.” Well, I have. I’ve had several, in fact. So, Rep. Duffy, pull up a chair and let me explain how a transvaginal ultrasound works, and how it feels.

Cross-posted with permission from The 9th And I.

Rep. Sean Duffy is a Republican congressman from Wisconsin, but you might remember him better from his days on Real World: Boston. Last week at a town hall, Rep. Duffy was asked whether he believed trans-vaginal ultrasounds should be mandatory for abortions, an issue that is currently up for debate in his home state of Wisconsin, as well as in Indiana. A bill mandating trans-vaginal ultrasounds was previously considered in Virginia, but ultimately defeated. Rep. Duffy responded by saying that he didn’t know anything about the legislation, but couldn’t comment on legislating a medical procedure that has been discussed at length in the news lately, other than to say that he “probably agrees” with it. But he doesn’t really know because, he says, “I haven’t had one.”

Well, I have. I’ve had several, in fact. So, Rep. Duffy, pull up a chair and let me explain how a trans-vaginal ultrasound works, and how it feels.

The first time I had a 9 inch-long (230mm) hard plastic cylindrical probe inserted into my vagina, I was 15 years old. I was having extreme, sharp pains in my lower abdomen and was brought to the emergency room by a counselor at my summer music program in upstate New York. After having my first ever pelvic exam performed by an alarmingly young male doctor, I was brought into an ultrasound room. I had only been told that I would have an ultrasound to determine if an ovarian cyst had burst, as they suspected, and I figured it would be like the kind I’d seen them use on pregnant women on TV: on top of the stomach, with the gel. Instead, the male technician showed me the ultrasound wand, instructed me to put my feet in stirrups, and inserted the wand.

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The technician pressed the wand against my cervix and pushed it further up and to the right side, prompting a sharp pain that didn’t subside until he finished pressing the wand hard against multiple parts of my insides to get a picture of my ovaries and uterus. The procedure lasted longer than usual because my bladder was too full to get out of the way, so he had to press harder and in more places in order to get a clear image.

In suffering with ovarian cysts and endometriosis for years after that experience, as well as with cervical dysplasia, I have had occasion for several more trans-vaginal ultrasounds. In total, I’ve had 9.

Two of my most recent trans-vaginal ultrasound experiences were when I had an abortion, in early 2010. I first consulted an obstetrician to confirm the pregnancy, and she did a trans-vaginal ultrasound after being unable to see what she needed to see with an external one. They also did one at Planned Parenthood, to confirm the particular procedure they were planning was appropriate to the gestational age and development, and to ensure that I wasn’t so far along that my abortion would be illegal in Texas. That ultrasound was not mandated by Texas law at the time (it is now), but they have always been a standard part of Planned Parenthood’s medical treatment.

That particular trans-vaginal ultrasound was extremely painful too, and not because I was regretting my decision or didn’t want to see the fetus on the screen or hear it described. It just physically hurt. I knew exactly what I was doing; the procedure had been described to me by the nurse, by written materials I was forced to read, and by information I was forced to listen to 24 hours before the procedure. And while some women may regret their decision, and some may have had a tremendously difficult time reaching the decision to be there, every single one of them knows what an abortion is and what it does. That’s why she’s there, and she doesn’t need a hard piece of plastic pressed against her cervix and a visual reminder that she’s pregnant to shame her into keeping a child for which she is unprepared.

Legally requiring a painful and invasive medical procedure is not good medicine, and it’s not good policy. The American Medical Association, American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology, and other medical associations that are just filled to the brim with doctors issue evidence-based medical guidelines and best practices. They are perfectly capable of issuing guidelines for how best to perform an abortion. And, guess what? They have! (And they say that “the available evidence does not support the use of pre-abortion ultrasound to increase safety.”)

If a doctor tells me that I need to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound to determine the gestational age of a pregnancy or to suss out the cause of a gynecological issue, fine. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let legislators do it to coerce and shame me, and millions of other women.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Commentary Race

Have a Problem With Black-Only Spaces? Get Over It

Ruth Jeannoel

As the parade of police killings of Black people continues, Black people have a right to mourn together—and without white people.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Dear Non-Black People:

If you hear about a healing space being organized for Black folks only, don’t question or try to be part of that space.

Simply, DON’T.

After again witnessing the recorded killings of Black people by police, I am trying to show up for my family, my community, and victims such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I am tired of injustice and ready for action.

But as a Black trans youth from the Miami, Florida-based S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective told me, “Before taking action, we must create space for healing.” With this comment, they led us in the right direction.

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Together, this trans young person, my fellow organizers, and I planned a Black-only community healing circle in Miami. We recognized a need for Black people to come together and care for each other. A collective space to heal is better than suffering and grieving alone.

As we began mobilizing people to attend the community circle, our efforts were met with confusion and resistance by white and Latinx people alike. Social media comments questioned why there needed to be a Black-only space and alleged that such an event was “not fair” and exclusionary.

We know the struggle against white supremacy is a multiracial movement and needs all people. So we planned and shared that there would be spaces for non-Black people of color and white people at the same time. We explained that this particular healing circle—and the fight against police violence—must be centered around Blackness.

But there was still blowback. One Facebook commenter wrote,

Segregation and racial separation is not acceptable. Disappointing.

That is straight bullshit.

To be clear, Black-only space is itself acceptable, and there’s a difference between Black people choosing to come together and white people systematically excluding others from their institutions and definitions of humanity.

But as I recognize that Black people can’t have room to mourn by ourselves without white tears, white shame, white guilt—and, yes, white supremacy—I am angry.

That is what racist laws have often tried to do: Control how Black people assemble. Enslaved people were often barred from gathering, unless it was with white consent or for church.

Even today, we see resistance when Black folks come together, for a variety of reasons. Earlier this year, in Nashville, Tennessee, Black Lives Matter activists were forced to move their meeting out of a library because it was a Black-only meeting. Last year, students at University of Missouri held a series of protests to demand an end to systemic racism and structural racism on their campus. The student group, Concerned Students 1950, called for their own Black-only-healing space, and they too received backlash from their white counterparts and the media.

At our healing circle in Miami, a couple of white people tried to be part of the Black-only space, which was held in another room. One of the white youths came late and asked why she had to be in a different room from Black attendees. I asked her this question: Do you feel like you are treated the same as your Black peers when they walk down the street?

When she answered no, I told her that difference made it important for Black people to connect without white people in the room. We talked about how to engage in political study that can shape how we view—and change—this world.

She understood. It was simple.

I have less compassion for adults who are doing social justice work and who do not understand. If you do not recognize your privilege as a non-Black person, then you need to reassess why you are in this movement.

Are you here to save the world? Do you feel guilty because of what your family may have done in the past or present? Are you marching to show that you are a “good” person?

If you are organizing to shift and shake up white supremacy but can’t understand your privilege under this construct, then this movement is not for you.

For the white folk and non-Black people of color who are sincerely fighting the anti-Blackness at the root of most police killings, get your people. Many of them are “progressive” allies with whom I’ve been in meetings, rallies, or protests. It is time for you to organize actions and events for yourselves to challenge each other on anti-Blackness and identify ways to fight against racial oppression, instead of asking to be in Black-only spaces.

Objecting to a Black-only space is about self-interest and determining who gets to participate. And it shows how little our allies understand that white supremacy gives European-descended people power, privilege, and profit—or that non-Black people of color often also benefit from white supremacy just because they aren’t Black in this anti-Black world.

Our critics were using racial privilege to access a space that was not for them or by them. In the way that white supremacy and capitalism are about individualism and racing to the top, they were putting their individual feelings, rights, and power above Black people’s rights to fellowship and talk about how racism has affected them.

We deserve Black-only community healing because this is our pain. We are the ones who are most frequently affected by police violence and killings. And we know there is a racial empathy gap, which means that white Americans, in particular, are less likely to feel our pain. And the last thing Black people need right now is to be in a room with people who can’t or won’t try to comprehend, who make our hurt into a spectacle, or who deny it with their defensiveness.

Our communal responses to that pain and healing are not about you. And non-Black people can’t determine the agenda for Black action—or who gets a seat at our table.

To Black folks reading this article, just know that we deserve to come together to cry, be angry, be confused, and be ready to fight without shame, pain, or apologies.

And, actually, we don’t need to explain this, any more than we need to explain that Black people are oppressed in this country.