Legalizing Sexual Harassment and Legislating Rape

Republican statehouses declare war on women

by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 3/22/12

One easily predictable but generally unexpected result of the 2010 Republican sweep of statehouses around the country has been a plethora of angry man-boy legislators transforming their contempt for women into legislation.

In Arizona, the Republican-controlled House recently passed a bill (House Bill 2625) that would allow employers to interrogate women employees about their private sex lives—what they do in their bedrooms and why they would want to use birth control. These are the same type of questions that, when asked by an employer or supervisor, fall into the category of sexual harassment. Except in Arizona, for now.

The rationale is that health insurance policies often cover the cost of prescription birth control, and while insurers may not charge a premium for the added coverage (which usually winds up saving them money), employers might object to their employees using birth control and hence object to company-contracted insurance providers providing it.

While this might sound like a rationale for a single-payer healthcare system where all patients could access the medical procedures they deem necessary, regardless of their employers’ prejudices or views about their personal medical choices, it doesn’t play that way in Arizona. There, Republicans argue that an employer has the right to know why an employee makes the contraceptive decisions she makes and, if the employer is not in agreement with how the employee conducts her sex life, have her insurance company deny her contraceptive coverage. I use the word “she” here, since there is no such provision to question men about the use of sex-related prescription drugs such as Viagra. There is no Republican legislative movement in any state to curtail having health insurance plans pay for such penis-stiffening medications.

Republican Governor Jan Brewer, about whose sex life or contraception use,I have no right to ask, doesn’t understand the controversy surrounding this legislation, terming the debate a “Democratic ploy” to drive a wedge between women voters and the Republican legislators who want to legalize their harassment.

Yes, it is a wedge, but I don’t see how anyone can argue that Democrats, Greens, Liberals, or anyone other than the Republican legislators who proposed this bill put it there.

Thou shalt lie to thy patients

Meanwhile in Kansas, Republican state legislators are trying to enact a new law that would both allow doctors to lie to patients about the health of their zygotes and fetuses and mandate that they lie to them about breast cancer risks.

The first category, the permitted lie, would protect doctors from malpractice lawsuits resulting from their intentionally lying to their patients about the results of blood tests and ultrasounds, as long as those lies tricked a patient into carrying a zygote or fetus with a devastating medical condition full term to a surprising birth. Republicans in Oklahoma and Arizona are also proposing similar legislation to protect doctors who intentionally lie to their patients from being held responsible for their lies.

The Kansas law, however, goes the furthest, not only protecting liars but mandating that honest doctors must lie as well, or face judicial sanction for speaking truthfully. That portion of the law requires doctors to recite a scripted lie to their patients seeking abortion, claiming that their abortion procedure will raise their risk of breast cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, rumors of such a link, which date to the 1950s, were firmly disproven by the 1990s. In 2003, the NCI convened a meeting of the top researchers in the field of breast cancer, who jointly issued a statement confirming that “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.” Interestingly, they did note that giving birth at a young age does cut the juvenile mother’s long-term breast cancer risk. So yes, abortion, like abstinence, or anything else that prevents teenagers from having babies, would slightly raise the risk for breast cancer. But I don’t see Kansas passing a law against teen abstinence programs.

Legislating forced rape

More common than the lying doctor bills are forced vaginal penetration bills, which mandate that women who desire an abortion must first endure a medically unwarranted, unnecessary, rape-like violation. Currently, Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia have new laws on the books mandating that women who want abortions must have an ultrasound, which in many, if not most cases, would be an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound, which involves penetrating the victim’s vagina with a long, rigid, cylindrical probe.

I use the term “victim” instead of “patient” here since the procedure is not usually medically necessary and is not ordered by a physician for a medical purpose, but is instead mandated by an overreaching big government for reasons that are debatably punitive.

The Virginia bill originally mandated specifically that the vaginal penetration method of ultrasound be administered to women requesting abortions. The language of the bill—naming a specific medical procedure that, when administered against a patient’s will, would, by most definitions, constitute rape—was a bit much for even Virginians to swallow. So the bill was re-written to remove reference to trans-vaginal ultrasounds. But like Texas’s similar law, the change was mostly semantic. The law still mandated that the procedure result in a clear image of a fetus and an audible heartbeat, which in early stages of pregnancy could only be obtained by inserting a probe into the vagina. So the result is the same.

Texas Governor Rick Perry termed this an “emergency” piece of legislation, which needed to be fast-tracked into law, despite the fact that Texas seems to have survived well enough for 177 years without forcing the hand of government into women’s vaginas.

Of course, not everyone agrees that forcing a woman to undergo medically unnecessary vaginal penetration is akin to assault. CNN political analyst and right-wing St. Louis-based radio talk show host Dana Loesch argues that the women who would be forced to undergo such procedures “had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.” In this dystopian vision, there is no difference between consensual lovemaking and having the state order your vagina penetrated by strangers wielding tools, since both, technically, result in vaginal penetration.

“You just have to close your eyes”

Idaho and Pennsylvania are now considering similar laws. Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who as attorney general in 2009 failed to act on a pedophilia complaint against Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky, has taken forced ultrasounds much more seriously, following Rick Perry’s lead and making passage of Pennsylvania House Bill 1077 a legislative priority. The Pennsylvania proposal, however, goes further than most in making clear the punitive nature of the bill, mandating that a monitor showing the forced procedure be placed in the victim’s sight line. According to the legislation, the attending medical practitioner must “position the screen so that the patient is able to view the ultrasound test in its entirety, with a view of her unborn child.”

If a woman doesn’t want to watch, according to Corbett, “you just have to close your eyes.”

The law also mandates that women be given two copies of the image captured by the probe, and that a third image be added to her medical records. In addition, when the patient is finally allowed to proceed with her abortion, her doctor must, according to the bill, offer to show the patient a state-approved video “which accurately depicts an unborn child.”

The financial charges for the forced ultrasounds, in all states that require or hope to require them, will be borne by the patient, adding about $150 to the cost of an abortion, making the procedure more out of reach to the poor while raising costs to insurance providers that provide abortion coverage. The Pennsylvania plan, however, mandates that abortion providers give patients a list of facilities that “offer ultrasound services free of charge,” channeling patients into a more horrific penetration experience at the hands of anti-abortion-activist-run “clinics.”

Our language barely has the words to describe this outrageous, morally reprehensible, legislatively sanctioned and coordinated, hateful abuse of women. Meanwhile, Republican statehouses in Illinois (HB4085), Michigan (SB150), Kentucky (SB103), Iowa (HF2033), Idaho (S1349), Mississippi (HB1107), Alabama (SB12), South Carolina (H3026), and Alaska (SB191) are considering or have passed similar legislation.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His previous columns are at, archived at, and available globally through syndication.

ęCopyright 2012

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