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McDonnell’s Forced Ultrasound Bill Awakens a Sleeping Giant — Pro-Choice Virginians — and They Are Going to the Polls

5:14 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andy Kopsa for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Photo by Erik.

During this year’s General Assembly session, conservative state legislators and Governor McDonnell made their disdain for women’s autonomy and privacy obvious with a slate of bills designed to restrict access to reproductive health care, including the now-infamous mandatory ultrasound bill. With their new power in Richmond, anti-choice politicians thought 2012 was their premier opportunity to railroad these policies into law with little resistance. These lawmakers grossly underestimated the outrage their insidious attacks on women’s health would provoke in Virginia and across the nation. In fact, their agenda awakened the sleeping giant of pro-choice Virginians – the majority of citizens who believe the government should stay out of women’s private medical decisions and personal family choices. With this spring awakening will come retribution at the polls this fall and in fall 2013.

A new Quinnipiac University poll makes this clear. By a 52 to 41 percent margin, Virginians oppose the new mandatory ultrasound law signed by Governor McDonnell, which coerces doctors to perform and women to undergo the procedure before an abortion no matter what. What’s more, the poll revealed 72 percent of Virginians generally oppose laws that try to convince women seeking an abortion to change their minds. Regardless of their personal feelings on abortion, most people don’t think it’s the government’s place to interfere in their personal decision-making.

This poll adds to the overwhelming evidence we’ve seen this year that once people understand the true intrusive nature and insulting intention of anti-choice laws like ultrasound mandates, they oppose this sort of government invasion into their private lives. Governor McDonnell has tried throughout his time in office to hide his extremist conservative record and agenda on issues like reproductive health care, putting on a “moderate” face. We’ve always known the truth, however, and now Virginians are remembering the true McDonnell as well. His usually strong political armor has shown weakness, with his approval rating taking a 5-point plunge in the last month. The legislature’s approval rating has similarly dropped by 10 points.

I’ll admit that at the beginning of the session, with anti-choice legislators in control of the House and Senate, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that several of the many legislative attacks on reproductive rights would pass. I could never have predicted how this session would unfold.

Read the rest of this entry →

A “Kerfluffle” Over Forced Ultrasound? An Open Letter to Governor McDonnell

1:14 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Tara Casey for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

As a Virginia citizen, and especially as a woman and a mother of a daughter, I have voiced my opposition to the mandatory ultrasound bill.  Although I participated in the public protests to this legislation, I also sought to engage legislators and other constituents in discussions tempered with mutual respect and moderate voice.  When the Virginia Senate passed this bill, I expressed my profound disappointment in what I viewed as the misguided failure of our legislative process.  Nevertheless, I strove to maintain an open dialogue, free of platitudes and presumptions.

This evening, I learned that my Governor does not hold to the same rules in this debate.

Last Friday, Governor McDonnell sat down with National Review Online’s Jim Geraghty to discuss “the kerfuffle over the ultrasound bill.”  I recommend this piece to every Virginian to read as the Governor has used this platform to express his perspective.

Below are his words.  I would like to use this platform to share my responses:

“If you just read the papers, you have no idea what’s going on in the legislature because the reporting has been so poor this session.”

Governor, I have been there as a steadfast advocate and witness.  The reason people are outraged and protesting is that they have been paying attention, very close attention.  Sustained engagement in and educational outreach on the legislative process leading up this bill’s passage has been a civics lesson for many.  Please, do not blame the media for the response to this bill.

“I don’t think the objective of an abortion clinic is to try to talk women out of having the procedure. That obviously would not be positive for their bottom line.”

Governor, I encourage you to talk to a physician who has performed an abortion, because, based upon your comment, it would seem that you have not.  If you had, you would soon realize that “the bottom line” is not what motivates these physicians in practice.  To suggest otherwise would be an insult to their ethics and a gross mischaracterization.  Please, do not blame the physicians for what the legislature has done and your support for this bill.

“Despite the rhetoric of opponents, this was about empowering women with more medical and legal information that previously they were not required to get in order to give informed consent.”

Governor, Merriam-Webster has three definitions for “empower” – “to give official authority or legal power to; [to] enable; to promote the self-actualization or influence of.”  It defies basic comprehension of this word to deduce that a mandate represents empowerment.  In fact, this legislation thwarts any attempt at empowerment as it will interfere with a woman’s autonomous choice and assumes that her doctor would provide her insufficient information to make that choice.  The last time Virginia ever passed a mandated medical procedure was the forced sterilization of the mentally ill, a scenario in which there is no presence of empowerment.  Please, do not blame a misunderstanding of the word “empower” for your “kerfluffle.”

“Informed consent is required for every invasive medical procedure, from getting your ears pierced to having an abortion.”

Governor, even in an illustrative context, an abortion should not be placed on the same plane of medical procedures as an ear piercing.  Ears are pierced at kiosks in the mall.  Invasive medical procedures are performed by specially trained medical personnel in medical settings.  Your relation of an ear piercing to an abortion reveals either your complete insensitivity to this issue, or your complete ignorance.  Please do not blame a citizenry’s misunderstanding of this issue for this kerfuffle.

This is our Governor.  This is his perspective. 

Dear Reader, that is exactly what the “kerfuffle” is all about.

What I Learned Today in Virginia: Orwellian Logic in 2012

1:24 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by tlcasey for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Early this morning, I learned that Governor McDonnell had ordered a SWAT Team to cover a Candlelight Vigil I attended the night before at the Governor’s Mansion. Riot police were hiding in the bushes, while my two small children and I sang, “This Little Light of Mine.”

In the mid-morning, I learned that compassion and logic do not have to be mutually exclusive, when a Virginia Senate Finance Committee quashed a House bill that would have cut funding to low-income women seeking abortions when a physician had certified a gross abnormality and/or malformation in the fetus they were carrying.

In the afternoon, however, I learned that, as a woman, I do not have the capacity to make an informed decision without my physician performing what is deemed to be an unnecessary medical procedure.

I learned that 21 Virginia Senators are better equipped and trained to prescribe medical procedures than treating physicians. I also learned that 21 Virginia Senators can mandate a medical procedure on a woman even when the medical community deems the procedure medically unnecessary.

I learned that 21 Virginia Senators may have the compassion to exempt victims of the historically under-reported crimes rape or incest from this legislation, but they are without any true logic by requiring these victims to have reported the crime to the police to qualify for the exemption.

I learned that 21 Virginia Senators can mandate a medical procedure on a woman but refuse to require an insurance company to cover the procedure. I also learned that 21 Virginia Senators can mandate a medical procedure but refuse to pay for the procedure if a woman cannot afford it.

I learned that 21 Virginia Senators can mandate a medical procedure even when the procedure itself does not provide the information sought for “informed consent.”

I learned that the flip phrases “jelly on the belly” and “abortion is a matter of lifestyle convenience,” which I personally heard in the halls of my state legislature, translate to actual votes and platform positions of disengaged legislators.

I learned that the prophetic phrase of Orwellian logic, “Ignorance is Strength,” came true in Virginia – not in 1984, but in 2012.

The Scarlet Ultrasound: State-Sanctioned Rape as Punishment for Having Sex

6:55 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Scarlet "L" for Lousy Lawmakers (photo: amrosario/flickr)

Scarlet "L" for Lousy Lawmakers (photo: amrosario/flickr)

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Research and common sense both tell us that mandatory ultrasounds cannot be what proponents claim they are, a harmless attempt to impart information to a woman to help with her decision on abortion. Research shows that women don’t change their minds after viewing an ultrasound, but go ahead with the abortion anyway. Common sense should tell you why. The only real way that an ultrasound imparts information is if a woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant. But women don’t seek abortions unless they’re pregnant. At most, ultrasounds tend to show women seeking abortions that the embryo/fetus is smaller and less formed than they’ve probably been led to believe. Except for the thoughtless and the dim, it’s clear that mandatory ultrasounds therefore cannot have anything to do with giving information, much less convincing women not to have abortions.

So what is it about, then? Pro-choicers have long figured it was a matter of putting up more obstacles for women who have abortions, but mostly it’s about punishment. Since they can’t ban abortion outright and therefore jail or at least fine women who have them, anti-choicers instead will write disingenuous laws that dish out punishment in the guise of concern. It’s the modern day version of putting someone in the stocks, shaming someone as punishment. Except the Puritans at least waited until after you did the forbidden thing; conservatives are going to get you for even thinking about it.

What’s been fascinating about the uproar over the Virginia legislature passing a mandatory ultrasound is that conservatives are basically admitting that it’s about punishing women for seeking out an entirely legal abortion, a backdoor way of making the legal illegal by introducing mandatory punishments. It’s part of this month’s larger spasm of honesty about the misogyny underlying anti-choice activism, a spasm that seems impervious to Republican party attempts to get it under control. Read the rest of this entry →

Virginia Board of Health Passes Nation’s Most Restrictive and Medically-Unnecessary Regulations for Abortion Care

11:26 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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You can find our coverage on TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) regulations in various states here.

The Virginia Board of Health today–and at this point one must use the term “health” loosely at best–did what most women’s health and rights advocates both feared and expected it to do by adopting medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers in the state.  The regulations affect providers of first-trimester procedures, contain what can only be called ridiculous mandates for abortion providers, such as requiring specific sizes of rooms and lengths of hallways which have nothing to do with either patient care or safety.  These “temporary regulations” will go into effect January 1, unless Governor Bob McDonnell suddenly decides he cares more about women than ideology.

As we reported two weeks back, the “draft” regulations–which were formulated under an emergency process that bypasses public review and comment periods and standard economic assessments for new regulations and is undemocratic on its face–will be put in place for 18 months to 2 years while more permanent regulations are formulated.  The goal of these is clear: To dramatically curtail if not eliminate safe, legal first-trimester abortion in the state of Virginia. Read the rest of this entry →

Va. Governor McDonnell Expected to Issue “Emergency” TRAP Regulations Today

11:49 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Using a highly unusual “emergency” process, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is expected on Friday, August 26th to issue guidelines under what is known as a Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law that will treat clinics providing first trimester abortions as a form of hospital. There are no medical or public health indications for such regulations.

In March, McDonnell, a virulently anti-choice Republican, signed SB 924, a law that requires clinics performing first trimester abortions to be regulated as hospitals. The bill gave the state’s Board of Health 280 days to create and to enact the new regulations. Because McDonnell has invoked “emergency” status for the process, it is expected that temporary regulations–which will first be issued tomorrow and voted on by the Board of Health in September–will be put in place for a period of up to 18 months while permanent rules are developed through a more established process.

The catch is this: the McDonnell Administration is bypassing virtually all democratic processes in place for the creation of such regulations. Under the emergency designation, the normal process for public review and comment on regulations, which usually involves several opportunities for expert testimony and public comment and an economic impact assessment among other considerations, has been completely thrown out. Instead, draft regulations will be released tomorrow, and then voted on at a meeting of the Board of Health on September 15th. Instead of any public hearings or comment periods, the Board meeting will be the only time for the public to speak out.  After the board votes on these temporary regulations, they will go to the governor for final approval. Moreover, the McDonnell administration has claimed it has the authority to rewrite without any further notice or input any temporary regulations presented to it for signature.

I’d say that is as close to government by fiat as it gets.

Analysts suggest that the temporary regulations will have an insidious effect of creating uncertainty among clinics as to what to do. Normally, such regulations would include a period of time–two years–during which clinics can make accommodations for any changes that might be necessary to comply with law, such as changes in physical structure, which can be expensive.  But by issuing temporary regulations, the McDonnell Administration puts existing clinics on an uncertain path: Do they take on the expense of adapting to regulations that might be thrown out or replaced in 18 to 24 months when more “permanent” regulations are published? Or do they take the risk of being found in violation of medically-unnecessary regulations that are costly and impede their ability to provide services to women in need?

Virginia has a lot of company in creating medically unnecessary TRAP laws and regulations seeking to diminish access to abortion care. “Nearly 30 states have some sort of TRAP law,” notes Elizabeth Nash, Senior Public Policy Associate at the Guttmacher Institute. “Regulations in some states essentially require clinics providing abortions to become miniature hospitals by mandating they meet ambulatory surgical standards.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) notes that TRAP laws generally fall into one of three categories: health facility licensing schemes, ambulatory surgical center requirements, and hospitalization requirements.

Health facility licensing schemes vary widely in their breadth and scope, but generally require that abortion facilities (but no other comparable offices or clinics) become licensed by the state and meet a range of regulations governing such matters as physical construction, staffing, and procedures.

Ambulatory surgical center (“ASC”) requirements mandate that abortion providers – including, in at least one state, those that provide only first-trimester medical or surgical abortions – be licensed as ASCs, which are sophisticated facilities designed for the performance of a range of out-patient surgeries. “These requirements go far beyond the recommendations of the national health organizations in the field of abortion care, and converting a physician’s office or outpatient clinic into an ASC can be too expensive for many providers.” notes a CRR report.

Hospitalization requirements mandate that abortions beyond a certain gestational age (generally at some point in the second trimester) be performed in a hospital. Although many states have some type of hospitalization requirement on the books, the vast majority of those laws are unenforceable because they been declared unconstitutional by a court ruling or state official, or have been superseded by another law.

In the case of Virginia, the TRAP laws specifically target first trimester abortion, one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States. As I wrote in July:

More than 90 percent of abortions occur in the first trimester of pregnancy.  Legal, early surgical termination of pregnancy performed by a trained provider is among the safest possible surgical procedures of any kind, anywhere.  Early medical abortion (using medications to end a pregnancy) has a similar safety profile. Less than 3 percent of women who undergo early termination of pregnancy report any complications whatsoever; the vast majority of those “complications” are issues so minor they can be handled in a medical office or clinic.  Fewer than 0.5 percent of women have serious complications from early termination that require hospitalization or surgery.

Does the “emergency push” by the McDonnell administration for abortion regulations come after a rash of problems found at clinics providing abortion care? No. There is no precipitating event other than the desire by Governor McDonnell and his Attorney General Bob Cuccinelli to turn back the clock on women’s health and rights.

Advocates are unable to say at this time what will be included in the temporary regulations expected out tomorrow, but suspect they may in some form reflect those adopted in states such as South Carolina or in Kansas.

In many states with anti-choice legislatures and governors, such as Kansas, TRAP laws can literally become a farce.  In July, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and the Kansas Department of Health put in place regulations targeting abortion clinics that proscribed the size of the janitor’s closets, the temperature at which rooms should be kept, and the size of staff and patient lockers. They further required that clinics be prepared to deal with a “live birth,” a completely superfluous and misleading regulation given that there is no such thing as a “live birth” in the first trimester of any pregnancy. In South Carolina, regulations mandate similarly irrelevant aspects of a clinic’s physical plant, down to the types of faucets to be installed in sinks. The Kansas TRAP regulations were temporarily enjoined by a federal court in a suit brought by CRR and the American Civil Liberties Union.

These actions are separate from and go far beyond the normal regulation of health clinics–licensing of physical plant and providers, standards for cleanliness, operational standards for equipment used–under which abortion clinics and other clinics performing procedures with similarly low levels of risk must already comply.

While TRAP laws are ostensibly put in place to “protect women” or “protect patient safety,” these terms are simply the Orwellian equivalent of a bait and switch. Guttmacher Institute’s Nash notes that there is no credible research on the impact of these types of TRAP regulations on patient health or outcomes, and therefore no evidence that these improve either health or outcomes in any way. It is clear the vast majority of these laws are enacted simply to make create medically-unnecessary obstacles that anti-choice lawmakers hope will be prove too great for providers to overcome, and in turn make it more difficult for women to obtain early abortions by making clinics providing them more scarce.  It is a nakedly obvious strategy to reduce access through harassment using the excuse of protecting health. In fact, the risks to women’s health are far higher if they are forced by lack of access to seek abortions later in their pregnancies.

Contrast Virginia with the states of Delaware and Maryland, which in fact have or are considering laws regulating abortion clinics truly focused on patient safety, according to Nash. In these states, for example, laws actually do focus on protecting patient health and providing a safe and clean environment by writing regulations to ensure that the physical plant of a clinic is safe, functional, and sanitary without focusing on things like the size of patient lockers or the outcomes of operations not ever performed. In this way, Nash notes, states can focus on safety by allowing for each clinic to be configured differently as long as they meet basic standards.

Though legal organizations working to protect the rights and health of women can’t predict what the regulations will contain and therefore are unable to comment on any legal strategy, women’s groups from across Virginia have sprung into action to protest efforts by the McDonnell administration to strip women of their rights. The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health formed in 2011 as a response to the attack on women’s health and safety prompted by Senate Bill 924. The goal of the coalition is to “protect and ensure access for all women in all regions of Virginia to safe first-trimester abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care services,” and to oppose “excessive, burdensome or unneeded regulations that undermine patient access to medical care for political or ideological purposes.”  The Coalition is expecting to collect at least 10,000 signatures to deliver to the Board of Health before the September hearing, and is requesting support from women in the state in this effort.

 

Why Insurance Coverage for Abortion Matters

7:40 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Katherine Greenier for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Late Tuesday night, on March 29, 2011, Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) handed down an amendment to Delegate Terry’s Kilgore’s HB 2434 bill, which directed the Commonwealth to establish a health exchange in accordance with the federal health care legislation. The Governor’s amendment will restrict Virginia’s health insurance exchange from covering abortion services, except in the cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

Abortion is part of basic health care for women. For some that may seem like an odd thing to say.  Abortion has become such a hotly contested issue in this country that we’ve lost sight of the role abortion plays in women’s lives.  But if you stop and think about it, every woman’s situation is different and many things can go wrong in a pregnancy. Every woman deserves the opportunity to make the best decision for her circumstances, whether her decision is raising a child, adoption or abortion. No woman plans to have an abortion, but if she needs one, insurance should cover the procedure just as it covers all other pregnancy related care. 

Unfortunately, some politicians have introduced legislation that would make it harder for women to access the health care they need.  These measures have been proposed throughout the country, including here in Virginia, to prevent insurance companies from covering abortion care.  By introducing the amendment to HB 2434, the Governor reopens the debate on an issue that has already been addressed in the General Assembly.  HB 2147 and SB 1202, bills to ban abortion coverage in health insurance plans, were introduced at the start of session and received hearings.  Both bills were defeated in the Senate Education and Health committee.  These measures would have taken, and the amendment to HB 2434 could take away insurance coverage that millions of women currently have and make it difficult if not impossible for many women to take care of themselves and their families. Read more

Repro-Briefs: States Banning Coverage for Abortion Care

6:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Robin Marty for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

A funny thing happened on the way to healthcare reform.  Not only did a woman’s right to choose get thrown under the bus in an effort to woo anti-choice democrats to vote yay, but a funny little loophole showed up in the final bill. 

[A]bortion opponents are not satisfied with the restrictions on abortion already in the measure, particularly those on abortion coverage in private plans that will be sold in the new marketplaces known as health "exchanges." So they are pushing one particular aspect of the new law. It lets states ban all abortion coverage in the exchanges.

Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, said her group wasted no time drawing up a model state law to that effect. They sent it out the day after Congress approved the health bill.

"It was a part of the legislation that states could opt out, and so we had a heads-up that this would be a window for us," she said. "So we moved right in to make sure that we could equip states with the tools that they need to have the most effective opt-out possible."

It happened more quickly than we could have imagined.

The first drumbeat started in Kansas in February, when the state legislature tried to pass a ban on abortion coverage for all insurance providers in the state, regardless of whether the coverage was public or private.  That bill was defeated when pro-choice advocates attached amendments declaring the need for supplemental insurance for smokers or people who use erectile dysfunction drugs.

Unfortunately, that appears to have set the stage for our current batch of states, all anxious to jump on the bandwagon and eliminate insurance coverage for abortion. 

Louisiana’s House Insurance Panel met recently and voted to ban all elective abortion coverage from any new policies written in the state

The new law allows states to prohibit abortion coverage in the plans that are offered as part of insurance exchanges established to allow consumers to buy policies from private companies. The exchanges will not be online until Jan. 1, 2014. Hoffman’s bill goes beyond the abortion opt-out provision by extending the prohibition to all insurance companies in Louisiana as soon as the bill becomes law.

Those who are fighting the policy note that extending the ban to all policies is a moot point, since insurers are unlikely to want to deal with the logistical nightmare of having different policies for those who are on the exchange versus those who are just purchasing private plans, meaning essentially eliminating it from the exchange means eliminating it all together.

Even worse, the Insurance Committee has yet to define what they consider to be an "non-elective" abortion, stating that mental health and a mother’s health may not actually qualify as exceptions.  The bill’s sponsor says he is willing to possibly look at other considerations but he’s "…not going to open doors that we don’t need to open."

Of course, it comes as little shock that this move is mostly about political face, and little else.  It turns out private insurance plans in Louisiana already don’t cover elective abortion.

Rep. Chuck Kleckley, committee chairman, says he doesn’t know of any private insurance plan in Louisiana that covers abortion, except when a mother’s life is in danger. That exception remains in the bill.

Tennessee has also begun passing legislation to eliminate abortion coverage from the public exchange, claiming that Obama’s executive order is nice, but it’s not binding.

The state House of Representatives passed the bill Monday, banning any use of state government funds to pay for an abortion.

Now the Senate companion bill has cleared the Senate Commerce Committee on a unanimous vote.

One argument against the state bill has been that President Barack Obama signed an executive order barring abortion funding under the federal health care reform.

But Gallatin Republican Diane Black, who’s sponsoring the state measure, says the executive order is just a statement, not a law.

“That’s what people think, that that is the case, that if the president writes an executive order that, that will be the same as having something in statute, and we all know that that is not so.”

Unlike the Louisiana legislation, this does not yet go the additional step to mandate separate coverage in all private insurance plans.  But, as opponents in Tennessee noted, once it occurs in one insurance plan, the additional administrative headaches would make it easier to streamline all plans to match.

In Virgina, meanwhile, Governor Bob McDonnell is also using an abortion funding ban as an attempt to woo social conservatives, in this case without actually creating much change in funding at all.

Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed Wednesday to bar state funding for abortion services — except as required by federal law — a gesture to social conservatives that likely will have limited effect. Neither the governor’s office nor Planned Parenthood said they believed the measure would restrict state Medicaid dollars for the top abortion provider, which religious leaders are pushing to be defunded.

McDonnell, a long-time abortion foe, proposed the broadly written restriction as part of a larger set of amendments to Virginia’s two-year budget. Lawmakers will have a week to consider the governor’s alterations before returning Wednesday for a one-day reconvened session in which they can override the amendments or write them into law.

Under the federal Hyde Amendment, federal dollars can be used to end a pregnancy only in the case of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk.

As more states wrap up their legislative seasons, will we see more Americans United For Life’s "model state law" popping up across the country? 

We’ll definitely be watching.

 

Women’s Bodies: Wholly Owned Subsidiaries of the Christian Right

6:19 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

When Virginia Del. Bob Marshall publicly stated his desire to defund Planned Parenthood in his state (they receive a whopping $35,000 in Medicaid reimbursements NOT for abortions, but for primary reproductive and sexual health care for women, men and young people), he used his interpretation of certain Biblical passages to justify his positions. He said:

"The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children," said Marshall, a Republican.

"In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest."

In other words, a disabled child is a punishment from God doled out to the child’s mother for having had a prior abortion. Putting aside the fact that his claim that “the number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically” has no basis in reality and no evidence-based studies to back it up, let’s examine what these remarks are meant to convey.

What so many have found offensive is the insensitivity he’s displayed towards disabled children and their mothers. Disabled children are a punishment? And women, these children’s mothers, are characterized as receivers of a “special” type of vengeance?

Although his comments seem particularly hurtful as they pierce the hearts of mothers and disabled people everywhere, this meme is exactly what we’ve come to expect when it comes to issues surrounding women’s bodies, health, and lives. From placing blame upon the victims of rape and sexual assault to declaring that breast cancer is bestowed upon those women who dare to remain childless to deciding that women who don’t remain celibate outside of marriage must pay for their decisions to have sex by carrying a pregnancy to term against their will, right-wing, ultra-extremist Christians have staked their claim on what women can and cannot do with our bodies by endlessly repeating the “you get what’s coming to you” line. In essence, women’s sexual and reproductive capacities are inherently evil and must be delicately controlled by the steady hand of the men who know best.

When it comes to pregnancy prevention and the use of contraception, for example, the Christian right is clear: if women have sex outside of marriage, we must “pay the price.” It’s framed as “living with the consequences of one’s decision” so the paternalistic desire to control women’s bodies is brilliantly turned into a call for women to take personal responsibility but the underlying premise is clear: women must know where our free will begins and our options end. If you are a woman and you commit the “sin” of sex for pleasure, you have given up the “privilege” of bodily autonomy.

In fact, fundamentalist Christian and far-right ideology (which includes the anti-choice movement) is not only against access to abortion. It has become, in recent years, vehemently anti-contraception as well. However, in the various scenarios and protests about these issues, it is never the married, heterosexual woman who is targeted because they are abiding, however superficially, by Judeo-Christian principals.

It’s the young woman, not married, who dares to engage in sex-for-pleasure or finds herself the victim of a rape or sexual assault who is in the cross-hairs of the ultra-right wing’s weapon of choice: shame and blame. It is the woman in Texas in 2004, the victim of a rape, who comes face-to-face with a pharmacist who refuses to fill the legal prescription because “his religion says she shouldn’t have it.” If women dare think we can “get away” with engaging in sex outside of marriage (regardless of ones’ sexual preference), or that we think we are not responsible in some way for the assault upon our body, we are mistaken. For our sins, the wrath of an almighty, angry God will appear in the form of an unintended pregnancy that we should be forced to carry to term.  It’s an odd juxtaposition with the public messaging put forth by the ultra-conservative, Christian right that says that no matter what – babies are always a blessing, and that anything we do to prevent that blessing from being bestowed upon us is wrong. It takes only a moment of reflection to realize that what they are really saying is: unintended pregnancy for women who have sex outside of marriage, forced or not, while using birth control or not, is a curse disguised as a blessing for those women who sin.

In a similar sentiment, the spate of bills and laws popping up around the country from Utah’s bill proposed and pushed by right-wing, conservatives that seeks to criminalize women who have miscarriages to “feticide” laws stemming from our Unborn Victims of Violence Act that have been used around the country to punish women who may dare to wittingly or not place their fetus in danger, we codify the Christian right’s patriarchal, anger towards women.

While we may be shocked at Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall’s callousness, it should not surprise anyone who pays attention to the right-wing, anti-choice, Christian conservative messaging and agenda for the women and girls of this country: Do not forget that the reproductive and sexual capacities of the female body are wholly owned and operated by the Christian right acting as ambassadors of a God on the side of the patriarchy.