By Nancy Smith
Is it just me, or is Florida becoming less attractive to women year by year?
(Men, you don’t get to answer this one.)
It’s not enough that in 2011 our Legislature passed a draconian law forcing women to schedule, pay for, and look at an ultrasound of their fetus if they choose to exercise their right to an abortion. And never mind that a routine ultrasound is not considered medically necessary as a component of first-trimester abortion, or that the requirement is a veiled attemptto personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion.
Not enough that a month ago the Legislature decided a woman must wait a further 24 hours to have an abortion,even when she has already received state-mandated counseling and made a deliberate and fully informed decision.
Now a careless disregard for women’s rights, again involving their reproductive parts, is making predictable national news for Florida.
Two former Valencia State College students say they were forced to undergo vaginal exams — “transvaginal probes” — in front of the whole class as part of their ultrasound training. And in mid-May they filed a federal lawsuit over it.
Participation was supposed to be voluntary in these exams, say the students, identified in the suit as Jane Doe1 and Jane Doe2. It was not.
Instructors at the Orlando school — part of the state college system — “browbeat” students into consenting, threatening to lower their grades or blacklist them from jobs at Central Florida hospitals, according to the complaint. They allegedly even said the students should find another school.
The lawsuit describes weekly probes for students — students performing the procedures on each other, including one male student in the program who “worked on” the females. They “endured these invasive probes without a modicum of privacy,” the document reads. “Plaintiffs would disrobe in a restroom, drape themselves in towels, and traverse the sonography classroom in full view of instructors and other students.”
The lawsuit alleges, “A student would place a condom over the probe and then apply generous amounts of lubrication to it. In some cases, students would have to sexually ‘stimulate’ … in order to facilitate inserting the probe into plaintiff’s vaginas.”
The suit says the women “experienced discomfort and embarrassment each time they had to endure this forced probing of their sexual organs.”
It also describes the “inappropriate” behavior of one of the three Valencia defendants: “She allegedly approached one student … during a probing session and stated (the student) was ‘sexy’ and should be an ‘escort girl’ (prostitute).” The suit claims that incident alone casts serious doubts on her motivation for the forced vaginal probing sessions.
Where I come unglued on these events, if in fact what has been filed in court is true, is Valencia’s total disregard for the students’ complaint. The women went to school officials and were met with arrogance. With stubborn righteousness. With a refusal to at least suspend the practice and look for options. With its insistence that other schools offering sonography do the same thing — so that’s an end to it.
Ordinarily you would find me deploring any effort to bring a lawsuit. But in the face of such arrogance, in light of overwhelming evidence that young women not only are allowed but required to be systematically humiliated, that a state college would so carelessly disregard the First and Fourth Amendment rights of these women — this Goldwater Republican says, have at it. Let’s see this in court.
There is indeed a war on women afoot. You have to be blind not to see it. In Florida, anyway, this help-yourself-to-a-woman’s-reproductive-rights thing is pervasive — crosses party lines, gender lines, racial lines, now even education lines. It should be beneath us by now. We’re going backward.
Nancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.