The Virginia Monologues

When Barack Obama carried the Commonwealth of Virginia with 53% of the vote in the 2008 Presidential Election, the first Democrat to do so in more than 40 years, many commentators viewed it as watershed moment.

Coupled with Virginia’s Democratic Governor (Tim Kaine) and two Democratic Senators (Mark Warner and Jim Webb), at the time it seemed like Virginia had become a veritable bastion of progressivism. How quickly things change! Following elections in 2009 and 2011, the Republican Party took the reins of the Executive and Legislative branches in Virginia and have since pushed a radical legislative agenda that most recently has targeted a woman’s right to choose. This culminated in a recent bill that would have mandated that women receive a transvaginal (rather than the more common and less invasive transabdominal) ultrasound before being able to procure an abortion. How did Virginians end up in this situation? Just what is Virginia’s issue with vaginas?

Years before being elected Governor in 2009, Bob McDonnell penned a master's thesis that decried "working women and feminists as 'detrimental'" to families, and argued that state policy should not support "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators" over married couples. Virginia’s current Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, when not filing frivolous lawsuits against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and bullying Virginian climate scientists, has dedicated himself to fighting for female modesty. Cuccinelli apparently thought that Virtus (the Roman goddess of bravery and military prowess) was being not quite virtuous enough by baring her breast in the Virginia State Seal--his office instead issued lapel pins with a version where Virtus's bosom was hidden from view.

With politicians possessing backgrounds like this, the bills pushed in the Virginia General Assembly become slightly less surprising, though still galling. Del. Bob Marshall, a long time activist who campaigns against abortion and contraception of all types, introduced a fetal personhood bill that would have awarded all legal rights of a person from the moment of conception. This bill passed the House but was eventually scrapped in committee in the Virginia Senate, thanks in part to attention brought by the more prominent bill requiring an ultrasound prior to being able to have an abortion performed. That original bill, sponsored by Del. Kathy Byron, required that women be subjected to an ultrasound that had to be inserted into a woman's vagina, with no exceptions for women who had been raped; this act would amount to "state-sponsored rape," in the eyes of critics.

GOP lawmakers initially rejected amendments to remove the requrement for a transvaginal ultrasound and Gov. McDonnell was unconvinced of the procedure's invasiveness (unlike patdowns by the TSA--those do "cross the line"), criticism from sources ranging from pro-choice groups to The Daily Show made McDonnell recant his support for the bill in its most extreme form. A version has now been passed by the Virginia Senate with a noninvasive ultrasound requirement, though the concept continues to represent a bureaucratic barrier toward procuring an abortion.

The callousness of these mostly male GOP lawmakers--supposedly concerned with individual liberty and getting the government off of our backs--is demonstrated by comments like those from the House of Delegates' deputy majority leader for the GOP, C. Todd Gilbert, who described abortion as "a matter of lifestyle convenience." Or take Del. Dave Albo, a supporter of the bill for who claimed to suffer from the resulting blowback; Albo recounted on the House floor that upon hearing a news story about the bill, his wife would not have sex with him. But already Virginian women are organizing to fight back, having formed a new PAC, "The Women's Strike Force," to campaign against these assaults on reproductive rights. With increased awareness and civic action by groups like this, this Virginia monologue--of lawmakers radically redefining the law without consulting their constituents--will hopefully be replaced by a dialogue. This could--to borrow the words of Sen. L. Louise Lucas--finally counter "the arrogance of this [legislative] body in telling women what to do with their bodies."