Va. lawmakers’ womb obsession is hard to fathom

Petula Dvorak
Columnist March 1, 2012

On a typical day in Virginia, women are sitting in traffic, stuck in their cars, wishing someone could find answers to fix the region’s epic transportation issues.

Or they’re working part time but can’t get the hours they need to make ends meet. Jobs...where are the jobs? they wonder.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Or they worry about their 5-year-old, who is crowded into a classroom with 30 other kindergartners.

They do not, as a rule, spend a ton of time thinking about their wombs. Their elected state officials, however, are apparently obsessed.

“Why is a roundtable of men so concerned with what’s going on down here?” asked Emilie Fagot, 25, pointing the skeins of yarn she was buying in a Springfield craft store toward the general direction of her pants zipper.

If you’ve been following Old Dominion political debates lately, you might think the Virginian uterus is the No. 1 priority on voters’ minds.

In the past few years, the majority male (82 percent) legislature has been on a roll, debating transvaginal ultrasounds, contraceptives, granting personhood to an embryo and whether to ax mandatory HPV vaccines for girls.

What’s up with that?

The women at Michaels arts and crafts store (You want to talk to women? Go to Michaels!) are puzzled.

“I’m really thinking about the SOL [Standards of Learning] bill,” said one woman from Alexandria, who wants the legislature to reduce the number of standardized tests given to school kids. “I see the stress in them when they take these. Some get physically sick. This is really where my focus is.”

When it comes to the uteruses of Virginia, she hasn’t had pressing concerns that politicians need to address.

I talked to about a dozen women at the crafts store, and nearly all of them said they were disappointed with the strange emphasis on women’s reproductive health in politics today.

A few, such as Kristen Mellinger, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom, are delighted that politicians are trying to make it harder for women to get abortions.

“I’m ultra-conservative, so anything to save the baby is good,” Mellinger told me, while we also talked about a good method for making cake pops. “A child is a gift from God, so I’m glad they’re doing things to stop abortions.”

But Mellinger is in the minority among Virginia women, according to a Washington Post poll conducted last spring. The Post found that 55 percent of women in Virginia believed abortion should be legal, while 39 percent said it shouldn’t be.

So it’s hard to understand why the legislature has been so anatomy-focused in recent weeks, especially in a state that swings so often between red and blue that it’s actually purple.

Not surprisingly, some women are fed up. Think about it, gentlemen. Among the Virginia women whose uteruses you’re trying to control are doctors, lawyers, teachers, CEOs and military officers. Don’t you have better things to do than to try to impose your values on their bodies?

Last week, a group of former elected officials announced the formation of the Women’s Strike Force, a political action committee that sounds as though it were sent from Wonder Woman’s own island of Themyscira to avenge the scorned double Xs.

“People are really fired up,” said Rebecca Geller, spokeswoman for the new PAC.

The strike force means that Leslie Byrne, who made history in 1992 as Virginia’s first woman in Congress, is back in the fray in a big way.

“I fought for women’s rights in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s,” Byrne said in a statement. “We must move the commonwealth and the nation forward, not backslide to denying women rights.”

Virginia suddenly became the butt of national jokes because legislation requiring ultrasounds 24 hours before an abortion initially meant that women would be subjected to a highly intrusive transvaginal probe.

Not sure how many of y’all out there have seen this probe. It’s a pretty intimidating device.

It’s so off-putting that one of the pols advocating for it was put on the deep freeze in his own marital bed when the topic came up.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) whined to his pals on the House floor last week that after the kids were in bed, the red wine was popped and the 46-inch TV was on, his wife called it a night when the transvaginal ultrasound debate took over the big screen.

Albo even accompanied his story with funky, get-busy music on the House floor as he set the scene.

It’s one big joke to them, isn’t it?

But it might not be so funny when women head to the polls on Super Tuesday to pick a GOP presidential nominee and then again later this year to decide whether President Obama deserves a second term. Republicans should remember that 53 percent of women in Virginia voted for Obama in 2008, helping to deliver to him the state and the presidency.

If legislators keep indulging their sexist, retro tendencies, come November they’re going to find themselves left in the cold, with nothing but some red wine and a big-screen TV.

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