As the New York Times reported over the weekend, Oklahoma governor Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed two abortion bills last week. “One measure would have required women to undergo an intrusive ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before having an abortion. Mr. Henry, a Democrat, said Friday that the legislation was flawed because it did not exempt rape and incest victims,” the Associated Press report noted (I say the Associated Press because the Times does not think women’s right to choose is actually important enough to report on, especially when the story is about women in a flyover state, so they simply reprinted a wire story.)
Mr. Henry said that “it would be unconscionable to subject rape and incest victims to such treatment” because it would victimize them again.
“State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will,” Mr. Henry said, “especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma.”
Under the ultrasound legislation, doctors would have been required to use a vaginal probe in cases where it would provide a clearer picture of the fetus than a regular ultrasound. Doctors have said that this is usually the case early in pregnancies.
The second bill “would have prohibited pregnant women from seeking damages if physicians withhold important information or provide inaccurate information about their pregnancy. Supporters of that measure said it was an attempt to keep pregnant women from discriminating against fetuses with disabilities.” The Oklahoma legislature, which has passed this legislation before, vows to do so again.
Putting aside the question of why you would want to legalize doctors lying to patients, what no one has mentioned about the first bill is that it comes into direct conflict with Oklahoma’s rape statute. If, in order to obtain a perfectly legal abortion, a woman must permit herself to be penetrated by an ultrasound probe — in whatever way, or for however long, the technician and doctor wish to do so, that seems to me to be what statute 21-114 of the Oklahoma Criminal Code defines as rape by instrumentation. This act (putting an object in a vagina, anus or mouth against that person’s will) is explicitly defined as rape in the first or second degree.
Coercing a woman into being raped with an object, for whatever reason, is, in fact, rape: this was first established in State v. Rusk (1979), which transformed the legal and popular view of what counted as forced sex by defining as rape any unwanted sexual intercourse, even if a man believed that a woman ought to give it up in return for the drinks and dinner he had purchased earlier in the evening. And by the way? Although it has been technically invalidated by Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Oklahoma still has a sodomy statute on the books too.
Furthermore, it isn’t clear to me why, if the legislature is institutionalizing rape as the only path to a legal medical procedure, it matters that whether a woman has come to you having been already traumatized by sexual assault or not. Being raped once is “Oklahoma, OK”, as they say in the song (particularly if you get your life back in return), but being raped twice is an act to which the state cannot consent?
Remember when various agents of the state– cops, judges — or your average college guy would suggest with a grin that you could just “lie back and enjoy it?” Or perhaps you recall those dark days prior to the feminist anti-rape movement when girls and women were routinely counseled that they only way to ensure that you would not be killed or beaten by an assailant was to be passive permit the rape to occur?
So where are feminists on this one? In our post-Abu Ghraib world, that women who have gotten pregnant through consensual sex would be imagined as candidates for rape-by-technician doesn’t seem worth a mention by organizations like NARAL-Pro-Choice America (which has virtually eliminated the word “abortion” from its name) or the National Organization for Women (which has nothing about the Oklahoma bill on the portion of its web site devoted to abortion rights.) These are groups that ask for our donations in the name of preserving our access to the law. Feminists are not the only ones who have dropped the ball here. Although the AMA reported on the previous versions of the bill, struck down by court order in 2009, they made no public statement that I can find condemning the participation of medical personnel in procedures that enshrine violence against women in the law.
This is of course, the endgame of feminist lobbyists and their so-called allies in the Democratic Party having ceded the abortion debate for all but those of us who can pay to control the integrity of our own bodies. While abortion is technically legal, it is actually available to a fraction of American women who have the money to preserve their civil rights. Now abortion activists want to go after the rest of us, by forcing women to be physically tortured and verbally abused by crazy people funneling their projected fantasies about the innocent “baby” you are about to “execute.”
And while we are at it, does anyone but me see see some relationship between how the Vatican and the Catholic Church hierarchy around the globe has handled institutionalized child sexual abuse, its successful attempts to constrict the civil and human rights of GLBT people and the lack of value the Church puts on women’s lives by its lobbying efforts against legal abortion and birth control? And yet, organized feminism in the United States is not talking about this either.
People talk about political reform as if it could, and should, only happen in formal political frameworks. From my perspective, organized feminism has become too complicit with politics, too wedded to the business of lobbying and compromise, too interested in the forest and uninterested in the trees that make up the lives of ordinary people.
Have we given up?
Noon Update: for more observations about sexual violence in plain sight, go to today’s post at Roxie’s World.