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Amendments to Make “Personhood Bills” More Fair For Women and Men


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When a personhood bill in the Virginia statehouse seemed likely to pass, state Sen. Janet Howell (D) added a bit of gender equity to it—in an attempt to keep it from passing.

Now, other lawmakers are following suit—but it hasn’t been enough to keep some personhood bills from passing.

Virginia’s SB 484, introduced by Sen. Jill Vogel (R), is a “personhood bill,” which would effectively make abortions as scary and emotionally uncomfortable as possible.

Unfortunately, such personhood bills are cropping up across the country, but the actual specifications of theses kinds of bills are still shocking. Virginia’s SB 484, for instance, will require any woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound image to determine the gestational age of the fetus. The patient will then be asked if she wants to see the ultrasound or hear the fetal heartbeat, and if she doesn’t, she has to give written certification that she rejected this “opportunity.” That written certification would be kept, along with the ultrasound, as part of the woman’s medical records at the clinic for seven years.

Since most women seeking abortions are within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy, this means that a vaginal probe would likely be used for the ultrasound. In other words, women seeking abortion would have to suffer through mandatory vaginal probing before the procedure.

Howell’s amendment to the existing bill would have required men being treated for erectile dysfunction to undergo a digital rectal exam and a cardiac stress test.

We should just have a little gender equity here,” Howell said. “If pregnant women should have to get an ultrasound before having an abortion, men should have to undergo additional medical procedures before getting a prescription for erectile dysfunction.”

Howell’s amendment to SB 484 failed with a 21-19 vote. Though she knew her amendment would not pass, she said she’s pleased with the response:

The response has been overwhelming—we’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails, blog postings, newspaper articles, and TV coverage. I was very surprised. I wanted to put the spotlight on how egregious this legislation was, and I really wanted to use sarcasm to make the point. [Laughs] I never expected so many people would respond so positively to it. … Of all of the contacts I’ve had from constituents and people all over the country, only about three have been negative.

Now, other pro-choice legislators are following Howell’s lead by adding more equity to the language of personhood bills.

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson added an amendment to a personhood bill recently that stated: “However, any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.” The proposal would mean that any kind of masturbation could be construed as an act against an unborn child. Not surprisingly, the amendment failed.

In response to the same bill, Sen. Jim Wilson proposed an amendment that would require the father of the unborn child to be financially responsible for the pregnant woman’s healthcare, housing, transportation, and nourishment while pregnant, which also failed.

While these amendments are failing among legislators, they have consistently made the news, forcing the conversation about personhood bills further into the spotlight. These legislators hope that by using humor they’ll be able to point out how unfair these bills really are.

Though Howell jokes that she wanted to use sarcasm to point out how egregious Virginia’s SB 484 is, she’s serious about its potential consequences for women—because her colleagues in the Senate just passed it a 21-18 vote last week.

“I’m old enough to remember what it was like before women could have safe and legal abortions,” she said. “I know the tragedies that did happen, and I never want to see that again for the women of Virginia and this country.”

Dahlia Grossman-Heinze is a reporter-blogger for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @salvadordahlia.

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