Consent, the frequent far-right blind spot.

Concerned Women for America doesn’t grok consent.  And they’re not alone.  Anti-abortion campaigner Jill Stanek is joining them, along with several other right-wing figures in North America who have responded to the discussions surrounding the tactic of legally requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before being able to access abortion services.  Transvaginal ultrasounds are already required in Texas and North Carolina, and an attempt to pass the law in Virginia was met with a groundswell of women comparing the invasive procedure to rape. As the name implies, transvaginal ultrasounds are obtained by the insertion of a probe.  A federal judge addressed North Carolina’s law, ruling that the State could not force women to look at the ultrasound image.

The whole excuse for requiring ultrasounds in general is that they would provide more information for any woman seeking an abortion.  As if women are incapable of comprehending reproductive issues, one Virginian State Delegate commented:

“the vast majority of these cases [abortion] are matters of lifestyle convenience.” And, 

“We think in matters of lifestyle convenience and in other matters that it is right and proper for a woman to be fully informed about what she is doing.”

Nevertheless, ultrasound procedures have not typically changed womens’ minds to any significant degree, and the tactic significantly increases the cost and time required to seek the procedure, making it a clear means to obstruct access.

To date, I haven’t commented much on the transvaginal aspect of Virginia’s bill, which garnered international attention when people realized that it amounted to state-sanctioned rape.  While obviously invasive, I do also see a concern about deflection of the issue.  The phenomenon of gambit-style legislation and litigation employed by the far right has often resorted to some of the most sensationalistic things, and then when the one that has drawn media attention has been walked back, the media and public accept it as a victory.  This is how the Overton Window of social discussion is pushed in one direction or another abruptly, making previously radical actions seem palatable.  Unsurprisingly, after Virginia amended their requirement to allow for other ultrasound procedures, the bill passed into law relatively easily….

Nevertheless, the transvaginal ultrasound issue has been pushed back into the spotlight by the cartoon strip Doonesbury, which has been running a story this week which several newspapers have replaced with a non-controversial arc, relocated to the editorial page or dropped altogether.  And some of the responses are revealing about far right attitudes on rape.  From Concerned Women for America’s Janice Crouse, we hear this:

“If they want to talk about this type of procedure being ‘rape,’ what about the annual pap smears? What about abortion itself being ‘rape’?” she asks.

Anti-abortion speaker and blogger Jill Stanek agrees, arguing “that feminists have dug themselves into a hole, because the abortion procedure itself comes a lot closer to rape than a benign transvaginal ultrasound, which Planned Parenthoods do anyway.”  Blogger with the Breitbart websites and CNN contributor Dana Loesch adds:

Wait a minute, they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.

The distinction, of course, is consent.  Our laws currently also recognize that if a person is manipulated, intimidated or coerced into giving consent, isn’t mature and self-aware enough to fully grasp what they are consenting to, or is otherwise duly induced into a state of mind in which they make a decision to consent to something that they wouldn’t normally consent to, then that isn’t really consent at all.   Neither is creating a legal obligation to endure penetration.

Of course, it’s not for lack of trying.  This comes only a year after U.S. Republicans attempted to slip a provision in a federal anti-abortion bill which sought to limit the legal definition of rape to “forcible” rape situations.  While this wouldn’t have singlehandedly changed the definition across the nation, it would have established a precedent for other legislation to follow, and by some accounts could have potentially signalled a sea change to the judiciary of what Americans were prepared to accept.  To be fair, Crouse, Stanek and Loesch did not advocate in favour of this definition, but it — and the failure to see the distinction between legally-mandated transvaginal procedures and rape — remains fairly representative of far right attitudes about women, sometimes even shared by some women.

This is also reflected in arguments right-wing ideologues often tout, that legalized homosexuality will lead to legalized bestiality, necrophilia and pedophilia.  Something tells me, a eureka moment about the distinction of consent is still desperately needed in some quarters.

But then, many far right attitudes haven’t evolved much.


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