There are a lot of very good reasons for women of any age to need a transvaginal ultrasound: abnormal cells in a PAP smear, pelvic pain, irregular bleeding that could indicate cysts, fibroid tumors, polyps, twisted ovaries, infections, endometriosis, endometrial hyperplasia, ectopic pregnancies, and even outright cancer.
It can even be a useful diagnostic instrument in testing for urinary and kidney disease as well, transvaginal ultrasounds being the best way to obtain the clearest and most detailed internal images possible outside a MRI or CT scan. I’ve had one myself recently, for good medical reasons, and have reason to be grateful such amazing and wonderful technology exists. So it is appalling when something that was designed to promote women’s health and welfare is being abused by politicians to hurt the very people it was meant to help.
If you are pregnant, ultrasounds are quite common and sensible early on to determine the presence of more than one fetus, and to calculate your due date. Later, an ultrasound helps to check the health of the baby, the location of the placenta, the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby, the baby’s position and to calculate its expected weight at birth. But all these can be determined with a simple topical ultrasound – transvaginal ultrasounds are not a common prenatal procedure and are not used unless there is some additional medical problem that needs closer examination by a doctor.
While being pregnant, in and of itself, doesn’t medically require a transvaginal ultrasound, any woman who intends to have an abortion certainly doesn't need one, either topical or transvaginal. There is no medical reason for forcing a woman to look at clear anatomical images of a fetus she and her doctor intend to abort, other than to traumatize women, make it often prohibitively expensive to obtain abortions, and more difficult for doctors to perform them. It’s the so-called “pro-life” mindset that wants to push their self-righteous moral agenda down your throat – or in this case, up your vagina.
Last year, US officials expanded the legal definition of rape to include men as well as women, any victim who is unable to consent to sex, and – this is the relevant bit – anyone who is violated with an object, any object, not just a penis – be it a beer bottle or hairbrush or rolling pins or scissors or mop handles or radio antennae or any myriad of foreign objects that have been recorded used against abuse victims. Rape is all about power – of completely dominating another person against their will.
All women are not the same, not cookie cutter patients who can easily be treated all the same. So if a doctor tells me she needs to do a transvaginal ultrasound for medical reasons, and I as a reasonable, informed, intelligent person consent, it’s not rape. I can tell you from personal experience that a transvaginal ultrasound is neither humiliating nor all that painful, but it is deeply and intimately personal. The radiologist who did mine was kind, gentle and very professional - and outraged when I told her about women in the States being forced to have transvaginal ultrasounds before any abortion, not just as a woman but because her medical expertise should never be used for political purposes, ever. But the procedure not being painful isn't the point - even when it's not humiliating and painful, it's still rape if it's unnecessary and against your will. A breast exam in itself isn't humiliating or painful - but if someone were squeezing your breasts and pinching your nipples when it was unnecessary and against your will, that would still be sexual assault.
So when rightwing Republican legislators introduce a bill that would require women to submit to a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion, against her will and regardless of medical necessity, they are reaching for power they are not entitled to, and attempting to legalize rape.
They are also doing the medical community a vast disservice, since this is not only becomes sanctioned rape where such laws are in force, the media attention surrounding the issue causes distrust and reticence in women who might have a genuine reason to need a transvaginal ultrasound.