One bill criminalizes workers who touch people in inappropriate places as part of their job. One bill mandates they do exactly that. In Texas, they even have the same sponsor.
A strict anti-abortion bill written by Texas state Sen. Dan Patrick went into effect earlier this year, requiring women seeking an abortion to first have a sonogram to ensure that they listen to their fetus’s heartbeat and hear a complete description of its development before they can obtain the procedure.
Women’s advocacy groups deride the new law as an undignified invasion of privacy, but advocates say it’s a necessary intrusion in order to further the pro-life cause.
“The government forcing this on a woman is wrong, but the very idea that the government thinks she hasn’t been a thoughtful moral agent is even more demeaning,” Kelly Hart, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of North Texas, told TPM.
Patrick, however, has taken a tough stand on mandatory bodily procedures — so long as they’re conducted by a government worker instead of a doctor. He also wrote a separate bill that would have criminalized patdowns from TSA security officers, which ultimately passed the state Senate but failed to become law amid threats from the federal government to divert flights from Texas in response.
“There was a time in this state, there was a time in our history, where we stood up to the federal government and we did not cower to rules and policies that invaded the privacy of Texans,” Patrick said in one floor speech.
Dave Simpson, lead sponsor of a corresponding bill in the House that would charge any TSA official who touches the “anus, sexual organ, buttocks or breasts of the other person or touches the other person in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable person” with sexual harassment, spoke of his legislation in similar terms.
“You can’t go to third base without giving us a reason,” Simpson told ABC News.
Mandatory ultrasound bills in Virginia and Pennsylvania have drawn widespread criticism from women’s groups and pundits, some of whom have claimed lawmakers who condemn TSA patdowns as an outrage are engaged in hypocrisy. Comedian Jon Stewart described mandatory transvaginal ultrasound probes proposed in Virginia as “a TSA pat-down inside their vagina.”
In Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) was confronted this year on a local news show over his anti-TSA and anti-abortion position, responding that he thought ultrasounds were about providing “necessary information” to women.
A spokesman for Patrick said the senator could not be reached for comment. Simpson defended his bills as unrelated.
“I oppose the use of force to invade a body, but when you’re using force to destroy a human being it’s important to give them the knowledge of what they’re about to do,” Simpson told TPM. “You can refuse to see or hear it. The sonogram performed is a matter of care.”
The TSA bill and anti-abortion law are both prominent issues in Texas’s Republican Senate primary between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst. Both support the anti-abortion legislation, but Cruz has accused Dewhurst of touting his vote for the TSA bill despite accusations from Simpson and Patrick that he killed it from behind the scenes to appease the federal government. Dewhurt has steadfastly denied that he was responsible for the TSA bill’s ultimate failure.
Matt Hirsch, a spokesman for Dewhurst, told TPM that while both bills involve mandatory touching, the candidate considered them apples and oranges.
“I guess I could understand your question, but I would disagree with the context of trying to compare the two,” he said, calling TSA patdowns an “intrusive” procedure. “I would say they’re separate issues. One deals with sanctity of life and one with invasion of privacy.”
A spokesman for Cruz did not respond to a request for comment.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.