Ronnie Polaneczky: Bill that would mandate invasive vaginal tests has infuriated some women

Kathleen Kane, a Democratic candidate for attorney general and a former prosecutor, says HB1077 amounts to an illegal search - only worse. (Ronnie Polaneczky/Staff)
Kathleen Kane, a Democratic candidate for attorney general and a former prosecutor, says HB1077 amounts to an illegal search - only worse. (Ronnie Polaneczky/Staff)
Posted: March 15, 2012

SO YESTERDAY I was at Starbucks with Kathleen Kane, discussing our transvaginal ultrasounds.

I had one 17 years ago, after a miscarriage. Kane underwent three of them in more recent years, also after losing a pregnancy.

How do we feel about it? Let's just say that the passage of time hasn't mellowed our memories.

Kane found her ultrasounds "invasive, uncomfortable and often humiliating." My experience was similar, despite the sensitivity, kindness and professionalism of the technician administering the diagnostic test.

It's hard to hang onto your dignity when you're naked from the waist down, your feet are in stirrups and your vagina is being probed with a 10-inch wand.

A transvaginal ultrasound isn't something I'd ever have expected to discuss with Kane, a Democratic-primary candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general. Then again, who'd have thought we'd see the day when Harrisburg politicians would propose a law - House bill 1077 - that forces a probe inside a woman, whether it's medically needed or not?

If passed, the bill would mandate that a woman undergo an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion to determine the precise age and size of the fetus - even though this information has never been required for a significant percentage of abortions (many of them performed early in the first trimester).

The ultrasound wouldn't always be the version in which a transponder is run over a woman's belly, since that test may not yield the information called for by the bill. So the woman could be forced to undergo the more invasive transvaginal version.

The forced test has been likened to rape (why not add candlelight and Barry White, and call it date rape?). But since it's being pushed in a bill sponsored by a gaggle of anti-choicers, the bill has been cynically dubbed "The Woman's Right-to-Know Act."

As in, "A woman has a right to know the age and size of the fetus she's aborting."

As if anyone had ever stopped her from asking.

The bill was to be debated in the House on Monday, but the vote was postponed by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, because of "concerns raised by the medical community among others."

The "others" are not just heavy-hitting organizations like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Pennsylvania Medical Society, whose leaders hate the bill.

They're also pissed-off voters and high-profile women like Kane, who's brave enough to go public about something so private.

I met up with her at Starbucks on the Ben Franklin Parkway as she took a campaign coffee break.

"Under the law, drug dealers would have more protection" than women would if the bill passes, says Kane, a former Scranton prosecutor who specialized in child-sex-abuse, elder-abuse and corruption cases.

"If you think a drug dealer has a stash of drugs in his house, you can't just go inside and look for them. You need a search warrant in which you present the facts. Otherwise, you've entered the house illegally."

In this case, she says, the law would allow the state to "enter" a woman (to put it crudely) who is engaged in an entirely legal activity: the seeking of an abortion.

"This bill is offensive, and it's frightening," says Kane. "It's not anyone's place to attach their social agenda on the backs of women's rights."

Indeed, a statement from one of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Thomas Killion, R-Chester, suggests that a social agenda, not a woman's "right to know," is precisely what this bill is about. Killion told the Inquirer that he had pulled back support, even though "I'm personally pro-life and I support anything that would discourage abortion."

In other words, House bill 1077 is not at all about a woman's "right to know." It's about discouraging a woman from exercising a right that others wouldn't choose to exercise.

And if that requires a mandate that she have an invasive medical test she doesn't even need, so be it.

I applaud Kane for going public about something many women would be too squeamish to discuss. And I hope more women follow her example.

If we don't tell it like it is, those Harrisburg yahoos will never get it.

Email Call 215-854-2217. Recent columns: Blog: Twitter: @RonniePhilly.

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