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The Republican War on Women: Invading the Vagina in Virginia

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The Republican Party has declared war on the dignity of women. This war on women is emerging as a centerpiece of the Republicans' 2012 election strategy. Around the country, women are being told that they should feel shame about their bodies, their sexuality, and the choices that they make as adults. The latest assault is taking place in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the invasion of women's bodies is so literal that it would qualify as farce if it were not chilling reality.

The Virginia legislature has passed a bill that will force women seeking an abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound. The mandated procedure requires that a probe be inserted into the woman's vagina and manipulated around so as to produce a high-resolution picture of the uterus and surrounding organs -- once again, for no medically sound reason. Governor Bob McDonnell has said that he will sign the bill. As part of the same package, the legislature also enacted a "personhood" law that would define life to begin at the stage of a fertilized egg, even before implantation, and hence would outlaw many forms of contraception and all abortions.

The Republican Party of Virginia showed no apparent irony in enacting this vaginal invasion bill on Valentine's Day. This, apparently, is what was on their minds.

I am a man who believes in coalition politics. The strength of a people is measured not solely by their ability to advance their own interests but also by their success in joining with allied communities in mutual support and solidarity. We become better people and more effective advocates when we show up for other people's issues. My strong support for the rights of women is an expression of that philosophy.

This Virginia legislation, however, is not a matter of coalition politics. Every person who has a body should view this law as a direct assault. So, too, should every person who believes that women are human beings.

Take a moment. Try to envision the mindset of a legislator who would enact a bill the sole purpose of which is to mandate the forcible, medically unnecessary invasion of a woman's vagina as the price -- the attempt at forced shame -- for terminating a pregnancy. Whatever a person's views on abortion might be, this is an assault of a different order. It is one thing to believe that abortion should be restricted; it is quite another to use the law to impose humiliation and invasion upon women who seek out the procedure. A person cannot enact such a law without embracing a willful disregard for the personhood and dignity of all women.

Imagine that a State were to enact a law that requires men to undergo an invasive rectal probing and prostate exam, for no medical reason, before obtaining a prescription for Viagra or undergoing a vasectomy. Such a law is unthinkable, because our public policies are responsive to the priorities and sensibilities of men. Protecting the basic dignity of women requires greater vigilance.

And yes, there were women among the Virginia Republicans who enacted this appalling legislation. Sometimes members of a group disregard each other's personhood and dignity -- a cautionary tale for us all.

The rights of women are under systematic assault -- in Virginia, in states around the country that have enacted similar draconian laws, and in the hysterical Republican response to the suggestion that women's contraceptive care should be included in their health insurance coverage. Simply put, the Republican Party has declared war on women. If Virginia can enact laws that invade a woman's vagina in this fashion, then there is no limit to the indignity that can be directed at "unworthy" or "undeserving" people -- the category that Virginia Republicans obviously consider women who seek abortions to occupy. If we allow this attack to go unchallenged, then who will be next?

The Republican war on women stops here, and it stops now.

This post has been modified since its original publication.

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