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Turnabout Is Not Always Fair Play

April 3, 2012

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).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2012 9:18 pm

    Good post but I am curious about something. I agree with you using bad policy to kill other bad policy is silly but I’ve been wondering why Viagra is still the counter to the women’s contraceptive policy? I only say this because I’ve kind of thought using Viagra actually plays into the hands of the hard right religious argument. They make their points saying sex should be used for procreation and abortion/contraception stops that. Viagra can be argued as something for procreation so they have an out in the debate in terms of their religious position saying Viagra is needed and they aren’t for regulating/banning it. What about using vasectomies as the counter? I assume if that was used the medical doctors who perform the procedure would step in (even if they are right wingers) and begin to kill the debate/bills. Just curious what you might think of this.

  2. April 4, 2012 2:05 pm

    Hi Paul, thanks for your comments. First, these snarky bills don’t always focus on Viagra. A State Representative in Missouri has introduced a bill to regulate vasectomies, as you suggest, and in Delware, the Wilmington City Council actually passed a law barring men from allowing their sperm to “die” – essentially, outlawing men’s masturbation.

    As you might guess from my post, it’s a little scary to me that this actually passed.

    I think the comparison to Viagra originally came about because it’s a newer medication that was so quickly covered by a majority of health insurance companies, as opposed to the pill, which we’re still arguing about more than 50 years after the FDA first approved it.

    Rather than focus on what the medication or medical procedure actually achieves – ability to procreate, or not – the focus of these bills is typically on what men should have to go through before being able to do one or the other. Some of the hard-right actually support vasectomies – I believe when Rick Perry was running for President it came out that he had had a vasectomy in order to control his family’s size. So to your point, a bigger focus on vasectomies might help achieve “common ground” – but I fear only in a way that would limit EVERYONE’s ability to control childbearing.

    The last point I have to make is that doctors do speak out against all of these anti-choice bills – as do some members of some faith communities. It is more rare than advocates, and also much more rarely reported on, and legislators and justices ignore them to focus on those whose “expert” opinions agree with their own.

    • April 5, 2012 9:22 pm

      Thanks for the added info. The Delaware thing is both bizarre and shocking it passed. I had not heard of that one.
      You really made the point I was getting at better than I with the Rick Perry example. I kind of assume a lot of these debates are 50/50 or close to it so a divide and conquer strategy of one side’s argument is one way I thought to stop this type of legislation from actually getting through. But I see what you mean about the danger in that route. Point well made.

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