Florida bill would require consent to perform pelvic exams
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida senator who has spent her entire adult life trying to help sexual abuse victims wants Florida to join other states seeking to require informed consent before gynecological exams can be performed on unconscious patients.
Democratic Sen. Lauren Book said she was horrified to learn the exams are performed on women under anesthesia as a teaching tool for medical students, unbeknownst to patients. She said no woman should have her vagina examined without her consent, regardless of the intent.
“It is in fact a practice that goes on. One of the things that is most troubling as a survivor of sexual assault and as somebody that’s a woman — putting aside the sexual assault — you have no ability to have a voice when you’re unconscious to say yes or no,” Book said in a recent interview. “I understand medical students need to learn. They should do it on a conscious individual, or ask before someone is unconscious.”
Book’s bill was initially held up by Senate Health Policy Committee Chairwoman Gayle Harrell until Book agreed to amend its scope beyond women’s pelvic exams to cover procedures such as prostate exams on men. The bill was eventually heard Tuesday during the committee’s final meeting of the 60-day legislative session and passed unanimously.
“We want to be sure it’s not just for women’s organs, but maybe also for men” Harrell said last week after agreeing to hear the bill. “These are exams that deal with an area of the body that people are very sensitive about and we want to make sure it’s done for everybody.”
But Book also stuck language specific to pelvic exams in another bill she’s sponsoring that would place tighter regulations on fertility clinics. The Senate Justice Committee unanimously approved it Tuesday.
A House bill that would require informed consent before pelvic exams is ready to be considered by the full chamber. Democratic Rep. Even Jenne is sponsoring the bill and said there’s plenty of time to work out the difference before the session ends March 13.
“I haven’t met a single human being who isn’t appalled at this behavior,” Jenne said. “Men are mortified by it, obviously and with good reason, but it’s particular troubling if you’re a woman and you have to go in for a medical procedure and didn’t realize that this could happen to you.”
The issue has come up across the country. Similar laws passed last year in Maryland and New York, and several other states are considering legislation that requires informed consent for pelvic exams while women are under anesthesia.
Book says she has agreed to allow students to observe other types of medical exams during personal visits to the doctor but said there is a huge difference: She gave her express consent, she was awake and no students touched her.
“You want to say yes, you want them to learn, you want them to observe — not to touch, not to do, not even to speak. Just to sit there and watch,” Book said. “The minute that I have to be unconscious in order to touch me ... that continues to enrage me.”