Turnabout Is Not Always Fair Play
I distinctly remember my feeling of pure delight when I first read about Senator Janet Howell in Virginia who had introduced an amendment to their forced ultrasound bill that would have required medically unnecessary rectal exams of men who sought prescriptions for Viagra. Finally, I thought, someone putting these forced ultrasound bills – amid the plethora of anti-choice legislation being introduced across the country – into the correct context.
As the trend has continued, I have not felt delight. In fact, when I first heard that Ohio State Senator Nina Turner was absolutely serious with her Viagra bill, what I felt was more like dread. Senator Turner introduced a bill that would require men seeking Viagra to have a cardiac stress test, visit a sex therapist, and get permission from their sexual partner(s). She did this in response to the “heartbeat bill,” sponsored by a female Senator as well, that would ban abortion as soon as fetal heart tones can be identified (about 6 weeks’ gestation – before many women are even aware they are pregnant).
If you watch the entire video of Senator Turner’s remarks, really, she’s absolutely brilliant.
There is something important to providing the analogy to men’s health. It puts things like forced ultrasound bills into an important perspective. It – hopefully – brings home the point for male anti-choice legislators, and their female anti-choice colleagues, that government deciding what is and is not medically necessary for a specific medical procedure is, quite simply, wrong. Politicians are not doctors. And in those rare instances where legislators are people with medical degrees, training, or expertise, they’re certainly not being paid to practice medicine while they’re legislating. There’s no malpractice insurance for elected officials.
But I can’t help having reservations. None of these bills are legislation that I want to advocate. In fact, I think advocating for these bills in a way that suggests you want them to become law is to do precisely the same thing as the anti-choice activists whose efforts you’re trying to derail.
In one of the earlier posts on Senator Howell’s amendment that started this trend, Jill at Feministe points out that of course we don’t really want men to be forced to undergo unnecessary and invasive procedures. But often the coverage is simply delighted, or continues the snarky tone without really analyzing the possible outcomes. As a former Women’s & Gender Studies student, I’m well aware of the debate around whether the amendment outlawing sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a brilliant piece of governance or a snarky joke intended to derail the bill’s path to passage.
At Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, our mission is “to empower individuals to determine their own sexual health and reproductive futures.” A true reproductive and sexual justice movement is about allowing all people – women and men, no matter their biologies or anatomies – to be free from politicians while they visit their health care providers. I don’t want to have new laws, in 2012, that outlaw masturbation, or require ANYONE to get someone else’s permission before making personal, private decisions about their sexuality or childbearing.
If activists want a special twist to bring home the ridiculousness of politicians’ obsession with the anatomy of women’s reproductive systems, there are other ways already being utilized. After Ramey Connelly started it, RH Reality Check has encouraged activists to provide targeted elected officials all over the country detailed TMI updates on their social media pages. It’s a new trend, and I think it makes the same point perfectly (and it’s also snarky and funny). Maya at Feministing also has links to instructions on how to knit vaginas and uteri, which you can then mail to elected officials, because they apparently love them so much they want to spend all their time legislating what goes in and out of them (but without making any real headway in preventing actual rape).