“Dear Dad,” the email from Regis began. “Having a great time at college, except for last month when I fell off a branch and sprained my tail. But there’s good news. I met a ferret at the campus health center. She’s very cute and also very sweet. You and mom will love her. We hope to visit in the next couple of weeks, after she has the babies. Love, Regis.

“P.S.: None of that is true, but I did get a D in Freshman Comp and I thought you should keep that in perspective.”

Mrs. Squirrel and I enjoyed the laugh. We might have been shocked, but we caught on too quickly. Regis is, after all, attending BPI and living here at home. BPI has no classes or tests, so we’re not worried about his grades. We knew it was a joke.

Alas, Republicans aren’t joking. In state legislatures across the country, they’re proposing bills that require trans-vaginal ultrasounds for women who want to end a pregnancy. Then, once the outcry against forcing women to be penetrated builds, they “back off” and pass bills that require abdominal ultrasounds instead. The entire process is, as TPM‘s Jillian Rayfield reports, a “smokescreen.”

Elizabeth Nash, a Public Policy Associate for the Guttmacher Institute, told TPM that there’s “definitely concern” that “the huge outcry around vaginal ultrasound is masking other provisions in the bill that are just as terrible.”

For example, Nash said, Virginia’s bill also mandates that a woman make multiple trips to the doctor before she can get an abortion. The new law requires a 24-hour waiting period after the ultrasound, in addition to the one already mandated by the state before an abortion to begin with. The law also requires that the doctor give a detailed verbal description of the image or show it to the woman. “All of these requirements are pretty awful, and they are getting lost in the shuffle in the outrage over the vaginal ultrasound,” Nash said.

“There is a fear that if you think of [ultrasound bills] as a continuum – that is to offer the woman the ultrasound is one side of it, and the [mandatory] vaginal ultrasound is the other side of it, a plain old ultrasound is in the middle,” she said.

The plain fact is that there is no medical reason for these ultrasounds. State legislatures are ordering these procedures to try to shame women into changing their minds about terminating their pregnancies. And in Virginia, many women will have to pay for their own shaming:

Along mostly party lines, the GOP-ruled Senate on Tuesday rejected several amendments that would have made the procedure optional, forced insurers to cover it or the state to pay for it, and would have exempted women who had no insurance coverage.

Perhaps once these laws fail to shame enough women into compliance, Republicans will next propose bills that require a trans-vaginal ultrasound to be done with the woman locked in stocks on the steps of the local post office, while a priest stands next to her reading aloud every Bible verse that includes the word “harlot.” The ‘compromise’ will then be to allow the procedure to be performed in a doctor’s office. With the priest there reading aloud, of course. To exclude him, Republicans will argue, would be an “attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance.”

Republicans are so busy breaking the Overton Window on women’s health that GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney doesn’t know what he believes. Yesterday he said he opposed the Blunt Amendment, which would allow employers and insurers to reject coverage for any medical procedure by citing a “religious or moral objection.” Romney quickly changed his mind, saying he “misunderstood the question.”

At least he didn’t marry a ferret. Yet.

Good day and good nuts.