Friday, February 17, 2012

Transvaginal Ultrasound: Rape?

Virginia is on the verge of passing a bill that would require a woman seeking an abortion to undergo a state-required transvaginal ultrasound. For some reason I do not understand some people want to call this state-sanctioned rape. I think the term “rape” is inapplicable to this situation. We can say the bill is repulsive. We can say it violates a woman’s privacy. But “rape” isn’t a word that applies to the situation, given Virginia’s definition of rape:

§ 18.2-61. Rape.
A. If any person has sexual intercourse with a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, or causes a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, to engage in sexual intercourse with any other person and such act is accomplished (i) against the complaining witness's will, by force, threat or intimidation of or against the complaining witness or another person; or (ii) through the use of the complaining witness's mental incapacity or physical helplessness; or (iii) with a child under age 13 as the victim, he or she shall be guilty of rape.

Here’s my argument: Rape is non-consensual sexual intercourse. The insertion of an ultrasound probe into a vagina is not sexual intercourse. Therefore, etc.

Some people take issue with my argument. They want to insist the bill would result in women being raped by the state. To explain why I think their position is foolish, I shall utilize this handy-dandy chart:

Object:ProbeProbe
Action:InsertionInsertion
Sex Organ:VaginaVagina
Consent?NoYes
Label:State-Sanctioned RapeTransvaginal ultrasound
Sex Act?--


My argument lives in that last row. Either:

1) All transvaginal ultrasounds are sex acts.
2) The lack of consent renders an act to be sex.

Both of these options are fucked up.

My guess is that most of my interlocutors would go with option two. But if the insertion of a probe for a medical procedure is not sex, then how does that change when the medical procedure is not consensual? They would have to say that force causes the act to be sex; the label “sex” applies when an act is forced on an individual. But there are plenty of actions imposed upon individuals that are not considered to be sex despite the presence of force. If the state forces you to pay a speeding fine that is not “rape”.

Maybe the issue is that genitals are involved. It’s not the force; it’s the insertion of a probe into a vagina. But that would seem to favor option one: All transvaginal ultrasounds are sex acts. Yet I doubt that a woman would think her partner reasonable if he accused her of infidelity after visiting her gynecologist. I’m pretty sure that we don’t want to consider any insertion of anything into a vagina to be sex.

So why are some calling this "rape"? Fuck if I know.

I understand that we’re against this bill. I understand that it abuses women, that it violates their privacy. But we don’t gain anything by calling this “rape”; the invocation of the term is not beneficial to our cause. We can find fault with the bill and fight against it without calling it “rape”.

Why do we need to invoke that term?

52 comments:

kylebrown said...

While it may not be rape, I would think you could at least categorize it as sexual assault. The person in question is being coerced into undergoing the procedure.

_J_ said...

The problem with calling it a sexual assault is that a state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound is neither assault nor sexual. It is a state-mandated medical procedure. In order to call it a sexual assault, we have to maintain these two equivocations:

State-mandate = Assault

Transvaginal Ultrasound = Sexual

Neither of those are sensible translations. Not all state mandates are assault. Not all transvaginal ultrasounds are sexual.

Yet when we combine a medical procedure with a state mandate, some people maintain that the sexual assault fairy has descended from on high and granted her label to the act.

Furthermore, equating a forced medical procedure to sexual assault seems tremendously insulting to those persons who have experienced actual sexual assault.


I understand the rhetorical impact “sexual assault” or “rape” have in debate. But when we apply those terms to a state-mandated medical procedure, goofy conclusions result from the reasoning involved.


I think the bill is atrocious. But I don’t have to equate what they’re doing to sexual assault in order to communicate my position.

Calling state mandated transvaginal ultrasounds “rape” or “sexual assault” seems to be the same as calling Obama “Hitler”.

kylebrown said...

If you were required to have a spinal tap in order to remove your tonsils merely for the purpose of causing pain and humiliating you into not undergoing the procedure, would you not consider that an assault?

I argue that a medical procedure can be assault when it is unnecessary. The medical necessity of the procedure validates it.

_J_ said...

The legal definition of assault seems to have to do with "harm" and "injury". It's problematic to claim that a recognized medical procedure magically transforms from "medical prodedure" to "harmful injury" when it's required by a state.

But that's not my main concern, so I'd be ok saying that we can call this situation assault.

I'm less willing to agree that this is "sexual" assault. Again, here's the reasoning:

State-mandated: Assault
Transvaginal ultrasound: Sexual.

If a state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound is sexual assault, then when we remove the state-mandate we've removed the assault, but the "sexual" is still there.

This seems problematic, insofar as it means that women are engaged in sexual relationships with their gynecologist.

Either the medical procedure of a transvaginal ultrasound is sexual or non-sexual. Things do not magically become sexual when forced or mandated.

Anonymous said...

it might not be rape under Virginia's statute but it sure seems to meet the FBIs definition:

"Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

Anonymous said...

Since you'll stipulate to calling it assault, let me take a shot at explaining why it could be a sexual assualt even though routine doctors visits aren't sexual per se.

Would you agree that it is possible for a gynecologist to abuse his/her role as a doctor and sexually assault a patient through inappropriate conduct during an examination? If so, then I think it's not so great a logical step to observe that this law would require a doctor to do just that--mandate an invasive, unpleasant procedure that is not medically necessary. That seems like the very definition of inappropriate to me.

If you're still hung up on the definition of "sexual," I would say that when the state decides to mandate the use of an unnecessary procedure, it is possible to construe this as an attempt to sexually humiliate women in an effort to dissuade them from seeking an abortion. Therefore the state has indeed turned what would otherwise be a nonsexualized doctors visit into a sexualized act of humiliation.

Just because a doctor's visit per se is not sexual doesn't mean that it can never be sexualized.

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