Let’s Be Really Clear About What A Trans-Vaginal Ultrasound Is

What is a trans-vaginal ultrasound, besides a medical procedure that Texas law requires doctors perform on abortion-seeking Texans whether they want it or not?

Well, it sure isn’t jelly-on-the-belly. A trans-vaginal ultrasound is a penetrative procedure that studies have shown does not actually change abortion-seeking minds. So let’s be super, super clear: as of today, Texas can and no doubt will require–require!–people to be penetrated vaginally with a tubular probe if they want to obtain a legal medical procedure. Again: abortion-seeking people may not refuse the vaginal probe, and doctors face legal consequences if they do not administer it, even if they feel it is medically unnecessary or their patients do not want it.

I’d like to quote Melissa McEwan at Shakesville:

“A woman or trans man who cannot access a legal medical procedure without submitting hir body to a vaginal probe cannot be said to be meaningfully consenting. Consent requires a choice. Consent requires a choice, because consent without a choice is not consent; it’s coercion.”

I think I’ll be filing this blog entry under “rape culture.”

UPDATE: I do want to clarify that the point of talking about this procedure is not to vilify the procedure itself–it’s my understanding that it is routinely conducted as a regular part of reproductive health practice on women, pregnant and otherwise, and I have no problem with that. What’s scary to me is that abortion-seeking people (at least, those who cannot prove that they’ve been raped or are victims of incest or are carrying a very sick fetus) cannot, as this law stands, opt out of undergoing the procedure. It’s the not giving women, and the not giving doctors, a choice about it that is horrifying to me. I am enraged by the extreme, heavy-handed patriarchal presumption that if the state does not stand in every doctor’s office and make sure that trans-vaginal probes are inserted and fetal descriptions are read, that abortion-seeking people of Texas, and abortion-providing people of Texas, cannot make sound medical decisions.

I want to talk about the nature of the procedure to illustrate that what we’re talking about here is on a different level than, say, getting your temperature taken or a throat swab. I’m confident that a lot of women understand this, because a lot of women understand that a even basic gynecological exam can be really uncomfortable even in the best circumstances and genuinely traumatic in others, but I’m not sure men–and certainly not the men behind this particular law–understand what it is they’re talking about. What I’m saying is: let’s really, really look at what we’re doing here. You want to regulate women’s bodies? Let’s fucking throw down and talk about vaginal probes, y’all. 

What I think needs to be understood, and what being really clear about this medical procedure illustrates, is the degree to which it is preposterous that people without vaginas would even attempt to presume to even think about talking about telling women what to do with this part of their bodies. Except it is not preposterous. It is status quo. Women’s bodies are and classically have been up for discussion, intervention, modification, invasion. I really can’t imagine talking about men’s bodies this way. And sadly, I continue to be unable to forsee a world in which we don’t talk about women’s bodies this way.

So yes, the vaginas are already being probed, people. The doctors are already being consulted. And women are still choosing abortion. They will continue to choose abortion. They will especially continue to choose abortion when access to contraception is ever-more reduced. They will even continue to choose abortion if they have to wait 24 hours between an ultrasound and the actual procedure, which according to Texas law, they now do. They will even continue to choose abortion if they have to listen to a doctor describe a fetus, which they now do.

Whether they will continue to choose abortion and also be able to get it safely, reliably and legally, however ….

About andrea grimes

Andrea is a journalist living in Austin, TX. She has a master's degree in anthropology and did her thesis work on gender and stand-up comedy. Seriously. Also, she has a bunch of cats. Three of them. Is three a bunch? Discuss.
This entry was posted in abortion, health care, legal issues, news, pregnancy, rape culture, reproductive health. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Let’s Be Really Clear About What A Trans-Vaginal Ultrasound Is

  1. Noel says:

    Doesn’t this meet the new FBI criteria for rape? *goes off to look it up*

    • Noel says:

      Got it: “At a meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. on Tuesday, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Advisory Policy Board voted to change the definition of rape in its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Summary Reporting System, following the recommendation of a lower panel in October. The new terminology says rape is ‘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.’”
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/06/fbi-definition-of-rape_n_1132913.html

      I see a large lawsuit in the near future…. or I sure hope I do.

      • Keiya says:

        It’ll get thrown out. You consent by going, same way the TSA is allowed to do whatever the fuck they want, even things law enforcement can’t.

  2. when a women is pregnant her body is not her own, it is owned by society. strangers (white male christian land owners) consider a pregnant women a vesel and not a human. sticking things in her and touching her in any context, way and place is a non issue in the us (south)

  3. Barbara Suzzi-Verrier says:

    We women are 3rd class citizens, always have been – almost made it to the top class, but alas, thanks to the ‘good old boys club’, we’re slip slidin’ away again! When are WE going to have our own revolution? Don’t get me wrong , I LOVE men, but there’s quite a few who should be castrated!!!!!!

    • When you stop being cowards and relying on men to do everything fo you is when you can have your so-called revolution. there is nothing in this country that is stopping yoyu at all. Please don’t tell me you ladies are afraid of the guys now? I men really with tons of goverment support and laws behind you what are you so afraid of? if youy want your status back then don’t be a sack of sissies and fight for it. Don’t be scared to get dirty… or was this whole grrl power thing a big fat feminist lie?

      • one woman speaking says:

        I would never, ever wish rape on anyone, no matter what, but sometimes I’m convinced some people will never understand, never stop demeaning and dehumanizing us, never stop fighting against our rights and our dignity, until they experience what we have experienced. What we continue to experience. What we survive, and not just survive but fight. No one who understands what women have survived could ever call us weak; no one who understands what women face could ever blame us for being afraid; and seeing from the perspective of the oppressed might show them that simply speaking is fighting for our rights, and that even with every reason to fear we are still fighting.

  4. carolyn graham says:

    yoohoo,hello ACLU, where are you?

  5. Pingback: Texas Sonogram Law « Women Health Pros's Blog

  6. Actually, a TV Ultrasound is NOT a procedure routinely done on women, pregnant or not. I don’t know where the writer of this blog has gotten that impression. A TV Ultrasound is a relatively expensive, new, and invasive procedure. No respectable OBGYN does them ‘regularly’.

    This makes the requirement that one be done before an abortion even more bizarre and twisted.

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003779.htm

    The link above takes one to a MedLine article describing the procedure, and when it is warranted.

  7. don't be dumb. says:

    just saying.. an ultrasound is required for an abortion, and when you’re in your first trimester, the only kind that gets a clear picture is a trans-vaginal ultrasound.
    stop twisting things, you sound stupid. a woman CANNOT refuse an ultrasound if she wants an abortion.

  8. wellcraftedtoo says:

    @don’t be dumb–You need to do some homework and clarify your thinking.

    The current situation is the US is that few, if any, states require a TV ultrasound before abortion (OK and TX being the only exemptions to this that I am aware of). A ‘clear picture’–whatever that means–of a fetus is not necessary for a safe abortion; abortions have been done, and safely, for many years without TV ultrasound, or any ultrasound.

  9. Pingback: VA Closer to Fetal Personhood « Women Health Pros's Blog

  10. M.-J. Taylor says:

    Nothing in the law (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/82R/billtext/pdf/HB00015F.pdf#navpanes=0) talks about a vaginal probe. I am against this ANYWAY, but I would like to hear someone say they actually had to go through a vaginal sonogram to get their abortion …

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