Richmond, Va. Once the word “transvaginal” became a big joke on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” it wasn’t long before Virginia’s conservative Republicans realized they had overreached on abortion.
Gov. Bob McDonnell and GOP state lawmakers Wednesday abandoned a bill requiring women to undergo an intrusive type of sonogram before an abortion — an abrupt reversal that demonstrated the power of political satire and illustrated again how combustible the issue of women’s reproductive health has become over the past few weeks.
“You never want to get on the wrong side of popular culture,” said Steve Jarding, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Democratic consultant who has run campaigns in Virginia. He added: “When people are laughing at you, you know you’ve gone too far.”
At issue was a bill pushed by anti-abortion lawmakers that would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo a transvaginal sonogram, in which a wand is inserted in the vagina to yield an image of the fetus. The procedure differs from an abdominal sonogram, in which a wand is rubbed over the woman’s belly.
Seven states have laws mandating some form of pre-abortion ultrasound exam. The Guttmacher Institute, which researches abortion-related issues, said none of the ultrasound laws in other states explicitly require the transvaginal procedure.
However, Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s state issues manager, said several of the laws, including a Texas measure recently upheld in federal court, effectively leave doctors with no option but the transvaginal procedure. That’s because an abdominal sonogram does not produce the detailed image of a first-trimester pregnancy that is required by some of the laws, Nash said.
In Virginia, the bill began muscling its way through a legislature that recently came under the rule of GOP conservatives. It moved ahead despite an outcry from women and Democrats, including a female lawmaker who called it “state-mandated rape” and another who made her point with a failed amendment requiring rectal prostate exams for men seeking Viagra prescriptions.
It didn’t fully jump the fence from politics into pop culture until “SNL” lampooned it on Saturday.
“Really?” comic Amy Poehler sneered in noting the Virginia bill on “SNL.” ‘‘Don’t get me wrong, Transvaginal is my favorite airline. I have so many miles on Transvaginal that they upgrade me to ladybusiness.”
Stewart wisecracked that “Transvaginal Ultrasound” was the name of a jazz fusion band he once saw in concert.