Here’s why that’s actually a good thing.

By Danielle Campoamor
Dec 04, 2019 @ 5:00 pm
Prince Williams/Getty Images

Rapper and father of six T.I. was hit with a wave of righteous and necessary condemnation in November when he said he takes his 18-year-old daughter for yearly so-called virginity tests. “I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact,” he bragged to the hosts of the “Ladies Like Us” podcast. And now, New York lawmakers want to ban the procedure, even though the state of one’s hymen does not adequately indicate whether a person has had penetrative vaginal sex, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has labeled the practice a human rights violation.

This newly introduced bill — which would ban physicians from inspecting a patient’s hymen to determine whether or not they have had vaginal intercourse, punish doctors who do so, and label any “virginity tests” administered outside of a doctor’s office sexual assault — is another exhausting example of politicians inserting themselves squarely between a doctor and their patients. It is also a necessary evil. Banning “virginity tests” — literally a non-existent procedure — is less about changing the practice of medicine as we know it, and more about sending a strong message that, sadly, is needed in 2019: Women deserve unfettered autonomy over their bodies. And that autonomy ought to be protected by law.

Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages, who introduced the bill, told The New York Times that T.I.’s comments made her “angry” and “upset.” “To use your platform to say that you did this is just misogynistic and it sets the women’s movement back,” she said.

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But some doctors, including Maura P. Quinlan, MD, MPH, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University, believe the legislation Assemblywoman Solages has introduced does just as much damage. “You can’t tell if someone is a virgin, so how can you ban something that is not possible?” Quinlan told The New York Times.

In fact, even T.I., whose legal name is Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., who has spurred the ban on virginity testing, knows that no such verifiable test exists. In the same “Ladies Like Us” interview, he said, “So then [the doctor] come and say, ‘Well, I just want you to know that there are other ways besides sex that the hymen can be broke, like bike riding, athletics, horseback riding, and just other forms of athletic physical activity.’ So I say, ‘Look, Doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports. Just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously.’” T.I later tried to walk back his comments on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Facebook series, Red Table Talk, claiming he was “just joking.” Of course, he’s spot-on in explaining some of the many ways a hymen can be ruptured in the course of a person’s life, completely irrespective of their being sexually active.

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But subjecting women, non-binary folks, and other people with vaginas to medically unnecessary, scientifically unproven, or even fictitious medical procedures is not a joke. It is happening today. It has been happening since Republican lawmakers realized they could win the Evangelical vote if they relentlessly attacked lawful access to abortion care. Which is why this bill, however medically superfluous, is necessary.

Recently the Ohio state legislature introduced an anti-abortion bill that, among other nefarious things, would force doctors to attempt to “re-implant” ectopic pregnancies — pregnancies that occur in the fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, or abdomen — into a patient’s uterus: a medical impossibility. Ectopic pregnancies, if left untreated, are fatal. Ectopic pregnancies cannot, in any way, be carried to term. And, again, it is medically and scientifically impossible to take a fertilized egg that has attached somewhere outside the uterus and “re-implant” it inside the uterus. And leaving it there to grow can cause a woman’s fallopian tube or ovary to rupture, rendering her infertile or even risking her life. A lack of actual science is no hurdle to this particularly motivated group.

Anti-abortion lawmakers have also forced doctors to perform medically unnecessary and often invasive ultrasounds prior to providing abortion care. In 2013, then-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a law that mandated abortion providers conduct transvaginal ultrasounds, or an ultrasound wand being inserted into a patient’s vagina, sometimes painfully and triggering to people who've experienced sexual trauma. While Walker claimed these ultrasounds were necessary to help a patient make an “informed choice that will protect her physical and mental health now and in the future,” studies have shown that when people cannot access abortion care, they are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation compared to those who received the abortion care they needed. Slowing down or completely blocking that care does not help.

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As the attacks on the constitutionally protected right to access abortion care continue, more and more politicians — many of them men who are willfully blind to the reproductive experiences of women and those who can get pregnant — are attempting (and in many cases, have succeeded) to force doctors to lie to their patients, hide medical and scientific facts from their patients, perform unnecessary procedures on their patients, and suggest scientifically impossible medical experiments to their patients, all in the name of “life.”

So, yes, we do need a law that covers all the bases regarding bodily autonomy, including the bases that do not exist. In a country where some politicians govern based on science-fiction, it is necessary to state unequivocally, via legislation, that you cannot do made-up, invasive things to our bodies. Sure, maybe it seems silly to write an entire law to tell T.I. that, in fact, he cannot demand a doctor make sure his daughter is a virgin — that nobody can do that, because that is not a thing a doctor can do. But it might be one more step on the path to eradicating the very real invasive things that continue, without enough legal recourse, to traumatize us every single day.

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