Why women's health issues are in the political spotlight

Feb 24, 2012

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is backing off his unconditional support for a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, focusing new attention on one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in Virginia's General Assembly this year.

From the controversy surrounding President Obama's decision on contraceptives to Rick Santorum's comments on women in combat and in the home, McDonnell's decision is just another example of how women's health issues are currently in the political spotlight.

Live chat with Post reporter Anita Kumar Friday at 12:30 p.m. ET about why women's issues are currently a hot topic, what you think about the bill for ultrasounds before abortion, and more.

Hi everyone. Thanks for joining today. We're ready to start chatting about the Virginia General Assembly and Gov. Bob McDonnell. Specifically, we're talking about some of the decisions lawmakers have made recently on the ultrasound and personhood bills. But we'll take other questions as well. 

Is the Roman Catholic church or the evangelical churches behind this push to prevent reproductive freedoms?

Thanks for the question. There have been many groups and individuals lobbying on these bills over the last few weeks. The Virginia Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's Catholic dioceses, have lobbied for the bills.

Did Virginia regulators understand how this procedure is done? Where they trying to make these frightened young women feeled raped as a punishment? I have been married three times and am in my sixties and had to have this procedure to see if I need a hysterectomy. It lasted an hour or so, was done by a very professional woman, and I felt raped. It is a horror.

Virginia legislators and Gov. Bob McDonnell say were unaware of the invasive nature of ultrasounds in the first trimester when most women have abortions. Even the bills sponsors said that. Many of them are parents but they or their wives had the external ultrasound. In case you missed it, here's today's story on how they learned more about the tests.

Do you expect the Personhood legislation to be resubmitted next year or will it be deferred pending further SCOTUS actions? Bonus question: What happened in the last 24hours that led to it being withdrawn this year?

Yes, I expect it will be submitted again. The Senate voted to continue it until 2013 and I suspect Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) will do just that. There were some Republicans, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, who had raised concerns about the legalities of the bill. So after it passed the committee, Democrats and a few Republicans voted on the Senate floor, to kill the bill.

Just wondered, where are women "in the know" or in politics on this issue (personal health, reproduction, sexuality)? Doesn't seem to be that much resentment or concern about the GOP candidates' comments from and for women. At least, that's how it appears from taking a quick scoop/gander at the political arena? You'd think, bras would be burning somewhere?

The two legislators who sponsored the two bills on ultrasounds are women. Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester) and Del. Kathy Byron (R-Campbell). Both are mothers. Neither said they truly understood the invasive nature of the ultrsounds. Obviously many men were involved in the discussion as there are more men in the General Assembly than women and many of the top aides to the Governor on this issue are men.

With all of the Genuine issues and demands on our legislature (jobs, schools, transportation, uranium), why now drag this anti-woman agenda out again? It's not broke, doesn't require any more fixing. Women still are so far behind the curve in pay, access to equal healthcare and equal representation in government, what is keeping us from advancing their cause instead of adding more repression? How can the same group that vote for less funding for schools, less funding for health and social services and more environmentally toxic causes such as uranium mining claim to champion the cause of life?

Thanks for the comment. Nearly 3,000 bills are introduced each year and many of them do address transportation, education, jobs (no uranium mining this year after all). But the ones that garner the most debate in the legislature tend to be about social issues, including abortion. 

I haven't been able to find this answer - do you know who VA wants to pay for these ultrasounds? The government? The women? The Church?

 We've been getting that question a lot. The government does not pay. It would be up to the woman. Insurance companies may or may not pay but obviously that would probably be decided on a case by case basis.

Has this hurt his chances as a VP nominee?

There's no question that he's received a lot of media attention this week -- perhaps more so because of all the vice presidential buzz. Several political observers tell me that he would have hurt his chances more had he not stepped in and done something. The Governor tried to do what he usually does -- find a middle ground. Many people do not think this is the middle ground. Conservative are angry. Liberals are angry. But he tried to strike a balance. We'll see in the coming weeks how people around the state and country respond to that.

The Governor and legislators stated they were not aware of the invasiveness of transvaginal ultrasounds? Did this bill not receive a public hearing? Were no letters or phone calls made to legislators or the Governor to which they paid attention? Did no one in the Capitol ask around or google what it is?

There were several debates in committees and then on the House and Senate floors. But until about two weeks ago not many people were talking about the invasive nature of the tests. Many women have ultrsounds, but the abdominal jelly-on-the-belly kind. Even the opponents were not really speaking about the trans-vaginal tests. They were speaking about cost, privacy, etc. That changed about two weeks ago when a senator and a lobbyist NARAL started bringing up the issue. In the last week, there was a lot of discussion.

Why are these private health issues like abortion and contraception being politicized? It seems like an all-out attack on women and their ability to choose.

Thanks for the comment.

I think the Post's coverage of the bill being proposed, i.e., transvaginal, was too vague and "dainty". It wasn't until I heard Rachel Maddow's show describe what was being proposed that I got the true picture of the bill. Thank god we have Rachel to keep watch on all of the anti reproductive rights bills being proposed and/or enacted around the country.

Thanks for the feedback. I did hear that complaint from other readers. I believe we changed out language as the week went on.

I've noticed that George Allen has taken a position on the personhood legislation but hadn't seen his opinion on the ultrasound bill. Does he have a position on that bill and if not, why?

His campaign has declined to tell us his position on the ultrasound bill. A spokesman tells us that Allen wants to concentrate on other issues, such as the economy. His likely Democratic opponent Tim Kaine has been critical of his anti-abortion stance.

"Neither said they truly understood the invasive nature of the ultrsounds". Oh come on. They are women. They put the wording TRANSVAGINAL in the law. If they didn't know what it was they would've just put ultrasound. I am beginning to become ashamed to be a Virgininan.

I don't believe the original versions of the bill distinguished between the different kinds of ultrasounds.

I was speaking with my mother about this the other day, and she lamented that she felt like she was going back decades, when the Pill was more controversial and women would have to cross state lines to get abortions. "Didn't we already have this discussion?" she asked. "How are we back here?" I guess I just want her and the other women of her generation to know that there are a lot of young women, me included, who won't let things go back that way. I've never been more incensed when watching political discourse than I have been in the past few days. Watching a bunch of wealthy, older men try to place limits on my personal body and life appalled me.

Thanks for the comment.

Who would pay for this ultrasound procedure that is not a health related procedure; but one that is required to only comply with the law? In all the talk about this issue, with the increase in health care costs overall, was this even a consideration? Thank you.

Yes, this was brought up in the debate several times. Women would be responsible for the cost, but their insurance could cover it. It would be examined on a case by case basis.

Is there a reason that men are making decisions about women's reproductive choices? Am I the only one who finds this bizarre?

We talked about this earlier. Both sponsors of the two bills are women. But there are more men in the General Assembly and more men in leadership positions.

Persoanlly I think the VA politicials should pass a bill that requires rectal ultrasounds before someone is eligible to get a prescription for VIagra or Cialis. Let's see what they think of that!

Thanks for the comment.

I'm fairly certain that the women who seek an abortion know they are pregnant with a baby. What is the point of the ultrasound other than harassment (and extreme harassment at that)?

Supporters of the bill say women should have more information before making the decision. The more information the better. Opponents of the bill agree with you -- that this is designed to intimidate women.

As government takes a larger role in health care, it is only reasonable that more attention will be paid on what should be private. The one clear way to get government out of health issues is to get government out of health care.

Thanks for the comment.

I think you're being very generous with the Governor by saying that he seeks the middle ground. As a woman who feels that she can run her own reproductive system without the involvement of the Virginia Legislature, I think he's way off to the nutjob wing of the Republican Party and treating women like children.

Thanks for the input.

I just want to point out that abdominal ultrasounds are typical for pregnancies that the mother intends to carry to term. You would not typically have a transvaginal ultrasound for such a pregnancy. But that type of ultrasound is indicated to ensure that a planned abortion is taking place within the legal limit of gestational age. Most reputable abortion providers require them to ensure that they cannot be accused of breaking the law.

Thanks for the comment.

That's all the time we have today. Thanks so much for joining me. Sorry we couldn't get to all your questions.

In This Chat
Anita Kumar
Anita Kumar covers Virginia politics and government in the Richmond bureau of The Washington Post. Her primary responsibility is writing about Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the General Assembly. Prior to that, she spent a decade at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, covering local and state government, courts and higher education. In 2005, she moved to Washington to cover national government and politics in the Times? Washington bureau. She also worked briefly at the News & Advance in Lynchburg and the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. A native Virginian, Anita grew up in Charlottesville and attended the University of Virginia.
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