This essay examines the transvaginal ultrasound (TVU) debate that was ignited in the spring of 2012 by a Virginia law mandating the procedure as a prerequisite for first-trimester abortions. This debate represents a recent intensification of historical arguments grounded in how the abortion debate intersects with medical practice. By following the debate as it unfolded on pro-choice and pro-life blogs, this analysis uncovers three overarching topoi in the discourse mirrored on both sides: the medical necessity (or lack thereof) of the procedure; the importance of informed consent; and comparisons to rape. Using Foucault’s concept of the medical gaze, this essay argues that across all three topoi, both pro-choice and pro-life activists’ rhetoric relied heavily upon implicit assumptions of the superiority and necessity of medical science. The TVU debate demonstrates an argumentation strategy that both strips the issue of its political, legal, moral, and personal contexts and rhetorically positions pro-choice groups disadvantageously by obfuscating any discussion of women’s rights.


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pp. 639-672
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