California jumps on the "ban virginity testing" bandwagon

Back in December, we discussed a proposed bill in New York State that would ban the practice of what’s known as “virginity testing” by doctors. This came up after liberal outrage followed a claim by rapper TI that he had the procedure done on his daughter on an annual basis. That law still hasn’t come up for a vote (though Governor Cuomo has said he would support it), but state legislators in California are already looking to follow suit. (CBS Los Angeles)

A California lawmaker wants to ban so-called “virginity” testing.

Despite calls from around the world to end this practice, there is no federal or state law stopping it.

“There is something very … um … 1890s and a little outdated about trying to check a woman’s chastity,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

To that end, Gonzalez wants a newly introduced bill to pave the way for the rest of the nation by putting a stop to virginity testing.

Rather than a criminal penalty, this bill would see doctors agreeing to do such tests facing professional sanctions and punishment by the state medical board.

Of course, the reasons given for putting such a ban in place are all rather specious. Assemblywoman Gonzalez is quoted as saying that “if it was anybody but a doctor (performing this procedure) they’d go to jail.” That’s certainly true for the most part, but doctors perform all sorts of procedures that nobody else is allowed to do. If you took it upon yourself to try to remove someone’s tonsils to save them a trip to the hospital, I imagined you’d wind up behind bars. We have professional standards for doctors precisely because they do things few other people are qualified to do for us.

Proponents of the ban are also citing the fact that both the United Nations and the World Health Organization have called for a global ban on the practice. Of course, neither of those bodies are responsible for crafting United States law.

The real question here is whether or not this is something the government (at any level) should be getting involved in. People are free to criticize parents who wish to do this if they like, and there are valid reasons for such criticism. For one thing, girls regularly rupture their hymens through activities other than sex, including various athletic events. Also, a small percentage of women are born without hymens, so the test isn’t particularly useful.

But the usefulness of the test isn’t the issue here. The question is whether or not the test is dangerous or violates the rule of primum non nocere (“first do no harm”) in the Hippocratic oath. If not, we’re left with the question of what to do about patients or parents who actually want a test like this done for whatever reason. If the patient objects (even if they are underage) the doctor should be able to refuse to do the test, obviously. But if a female patient actually requests it and there’s no negative health outcome, why should the doctor be forbidden from doing it? Who is the “victim” in that scenario justifying the need for a new law?

This whole question probably seems rather silly to many people when viewed through the lens of 21st-century perspectives. But it all comes back to the issue of when and how the government should be interfering with the rights of the individual. And this one doesn’t seem to pass muster as far as I’m concerned.

Jazz Shaw May 06, 2021 7:58 AM ET