PolitiFact Ohio, Rachel Maddow and the ‘vaginal probe’ beat

PolitiFact Ohio has seen fit to give MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow a rating of “Pants on Fire” for a statement she’d made on

Rachel Maddow tends bar at an MSNBC event. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Rachel Maddow tends bar at an MSNBC event. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

the June 28 edition of her program. In ripping the Republican-led Ohio General Assembly, Maddow “contended that the new regulations included a ‘mandatory vaginal probe at the insistence of the state,’” PolitiFact Ohio charged.

Dead wrong, found PolitiFact Ohio. It cites this section of the state code:

The director of health may promulgate rules pursuant to section 111.15 of the Revised Code specifying the appropriate methods of performing an examination for the presence of a fetal heartbeat of an unborn individual based on standard medical practice. The rules shall require only that an examination shall be performed externally.

And then it reaches this conclusion vis-a-vis Maddow: “In other words, not only are external methods such as transabdominal ultrasounds allowed under the new law; they are required. That sinks Maddow’s claim of a ‘mandatory vaginal probe.’”

En route to its “Pants on Fire” determination, PolitiFact Ohio delivers a classic jab at Maddow, wishing that she had “read the language closely.” If only she’d done that, she would have realized that the mandate was for an external probe.

Inquiries to MSNBC on this matter haven’t bounced back just yet. So it’s a bit difficult to divine Maddow’s defense. But let’s give it a try. In the course of her monologue, Maddow mentions the measure several times. Here’s a big chunk of the transcript text, with those references highlighted:

You will also be considering all the other myriad rape and abortion things that the Republicans put into the state budget, that led the Ohio anti-abortion movement to excitedly call this the most pro-life budget in Ohio history. Is the budget really the place for this stuff? Ohio Republicans think so. In the budget, they have inserted a measure to defund Planned Parenthood. A measure for a forced ultrasound. You may not want it, your doctor may not want you to have it, but Ohio Republicans insist you have it and that you pay for it.

Ohio doctors will be forced to give you a speech about the forced ultrasound, whether or not they agree with the speech and think it is in the best interest of their patient. Republicans in state government will give Ohio doctors a script that they must read. And there is more, Ohio’s Republican budget will also establish a new requirement that clinics have to have transfer agreements with local hospitals. And it would also ban public hospitals from establishing those agreements. So, it creates a new thing that clinics have and also says they cannot have it. In case it’s not clear enough, the whole point is just to shut down abortion clinics in the state.

The budget also — remember, this is a budget. For some reason, Ohio Republicans decided it was also a budgetary matter to redefine the words pregnancy and fetus in Ohio state law. They want to define pregnancy as beginning even before implanting it in the uterine lining. Lots of contraception works to prevent things from implantation in the uterine line. So, it would essentially say, you want an IUD, that means you want an abortion. And of course there is a mandatory ultrasound before you can get an abortion. So, if you want to get contraception that you may have had for your whole life in Ohio, maybe as your existence as an adult woman in Ohio, welcome to your mandatory vaginal probe at the insistence of the state, even just to keep your IUD. Seriously?

“Forced ultrasound” appears to square with the facts, a notion confirmed by Henry Gomez, the author of the PolitiFact Ohio item. Gomez e-mails:

Our items always home in on a specific statement, not an entire speech or segment. Had Maddow only called it a “forced ultrasound,” as she does several times in the broadcast, the rating obviously would have been different. But she went further by making a very direct assertion: that the procedure would be a “mandatory vaginal probe.”

While there is some ambiguous language in the budget pertaining to abortion, the language is very clear with regard to what procedures are acceptable when checking for a fetal heartbeat. The procedure must be external. Maddow’s claim that a transvaginal exam is mandatory is as far from truthful as you can get, hence the Pants on Fire rating.

A search of the transcript reveals that Maddow made but one reference to “vaginal probe” — the very instance on which PolitiFact Ohio pounced. That Maddow made this isolated reference along with multiple references to “forced ultrasound” suggests that she may have slipped up for a brief second on her program. That the term “mandatory vaginal probe” may have taken up residence on the tip of her tongue comes as no surprise, in light of trends on her show over the past year or so.

For instance, February 2013:

The bill is part of an overall TRAP law that tries to use targeted regulations that some clinics will not be able to comply with so that those clinics will not be able to provide abortions anymore. For women having the kind of abortion you can get very early in pregnancy where you just take a pill that ends the pregnancy, Indiana Republicans want to force women to submit to a state-ordered vaginal probe before you are allowed to have that pill.

Also from February 2013:

In a hearings to the bill, an opposing legislator pointed out to him if his bill becomes law, doctors would need to do an internal vaginal ultrasound in order to determine which very few Arkansas women would be eligible for their constitutional rights anymore. You would need a vaginal probe in order to figure that out.

January 2013:

And that’s why [Bob McDonnell] will never shake the nickname “governor ultrasound.” And that will not be handy if he ever tries to seek further political office after he is turfed out of the governorship this year.
It was February of last year when Virginia Republicans got to work on what started out as a forced vaginal probe ultrasound bill. And for whatever reason, that bill in Virginia got a lot of national attention.

October 2012:

Virginia Republicans also came out with their forced vaginal probe ultrasound bill this year, which Governor McDonnell initially threw his full support behind. Hundreds of protesters turned up at the capital on the day the House was supposed to vote on the first ultrasound bill to take part in a silent protest. Protesters lined the sidewalks where legislators will just have to see them as they walked to work, just stood there being eerily quite. It was a very powerful, very large protest.

May 2012:

The president, of course, referring to Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and the new forced ultrasound law and the Pennsylvania forced vaginal probe, forced the image into your sightline ultrasound bill, which is supported by Republican Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.

“Vaginal probe” is Maddow’s beat.

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