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BU JERRY TALLMER | It is many years now since I first saw “Suddenly Last Summer,” the short, searing 1958 Off Broadway play by Tennessee Williams, and even more years since I first came upon “Sanctuary,” the unputdownable 1931 novel by William Faulkner.
In “Suddenly Last Summer” a woman of means, Mrs. Venable, is trying to bring about the rape-by-lobotomy — i.e., the excision of memory — of a younger woman, Catherine Sloper (brilliant Anne Meacham in the original production) who has witnessed the savage death of Mrs. Venable’s pedophiliac homosexual son.
The play is generally believed to reflect Tennessee Williams’s lifelong guilt over the lobotomy perpetrated on his sister in early years.
In “Sanctuary” a young woman named Temple Drake is raped with a corncob pipe by a murderous, impotent hayseed named Popeye.
One does not, over however many years, easily forget such shockers, particularly the corncob pipe.
What brings that image to the forefront of my own memory at this particular moment is the passage by the legislature and the governor of the estimable Commonwealth of Virginia of a law requiring a vaginal ultrasound examination — a rape by medical probe instead of corncob pipe — of any woman seeking or requiring an abortion for any reason whatsoever.
They passed it on Valentine’s Day.
Virginia, where my son and his wife make their home. Richmond, Virginia, where my father was born and raised and where his father, my grandfather, Jacob Thalheimer, was, I believe, also born.
And where that prince among legislators, creepy Eric Cantor, Republican House whip, would surely have voted for it, except that he’s in the wrong legislature.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, by the way — who pushed the vaginal ultrasound bill to passage and at this moment is playing games with the “personhood” bill that sits on his desk, awaiting signature — is on the short list for Republican vice presidential candidate if Mitt Romney lands the big one (but don’t hold your breath).
Elsewhere, Texas already has a vaginal ultrasound law, and Iowa (of course) is contemplating one.
I myself have had two or three ultrasound examinations over the years, not for pregnancy but for blood clots, and though it is, how shall I say? — interesting — to have some unknown young Asian beauty pressing an electronic receptor into one’s groin, it is not rape.
Vaginal ultrasound is a very different cup of tea, particularly if the woman — or teenage girl — doesn’t want to have it. Then it can quickly become indeed rape, not by human muscle or corncob pipe, but 9-or-10-inch metal phallic probe.
“It is,” says a woman I know — a Greenwich Villager — who has had the experience for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy, “very painful and invasive. Completely disgusting. I don’t know how else to describe it.”
The know-nothings of the Republican Party, ideological true believers from Santorum to Gingrich to Paul to McDonnell to Mr. Wobbly and back again, have indeed declared all-out war on women.
P.S. Apart from Santorum, I don’t think these guys actually believe in anything except winning. Killing Barack Obama. That Santorum may, in fact, be a 13th-century true believer makes him the most dangerous of all.
P.P.S. Somewhere up in heaven, smiling at all this, is Dr. Robert Spencer of Ashland, Pennsylvania [1889-1969], the sainted abortionist who may have helped as many as 40,000 women out of their troubles in his lifetime. Now there was a true, true believer.