Today, South Dakota's governor signed the new abortion law. The law, scheduled to go into effect on July 1 (although it will be challenged in court) bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother. The proponents of the law have said openly that their intent was to time this law, hoping that Justice Stevens' heart won't last until a new President is sworn in in January 2009, thereby allowing President Bush to replace him with a strong conservative, who will join with Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts to overturn Roe v. Wade. Leaving aside how 'pro-life' it is to wish for the death of Justice Stevens, and also leaving aside the troubling aspects of passing legislation, not with any idea that it will become law, but only to force a challenge, the law and its supporters are a mass of contradictions.
Start with the law itself. Of course, since it bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother, this includes Rape. But then rep. Bill Napoli, Republican of Rapid City and a leading proponent of the bill, when asked about this by Fred de Sam Lazaro on PBS' Online Newshour, did change his tune and name an exception for rape-- sort of:
BILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
Uh, I don't even know where to begin on that. First of all, ANY rape victim is likely to be very messed up, physically and psychologically, whether they are impregnated or not. Read Shayna's post about a friend of hers who ended up killing herself after being raped. How does it make any difference whether the girl in question was a churchgoer, whether she was a virgin or whether she was sodomized? I addressed the whole question of whether virginity had anything to do with the seriousness of the crime on a post I wrote a few weeks ago criticizing an Italian court decision on the subject. Obviously, rep. Napoli has 1) done what was ideologically fed to him, and not thought it through on his own, and 2) thinks that some people are more deserving of protection under the law than other people are (dare we say, 'better?')
Later on, Napoli goes on:
BILL NAPOLI: When I was growing up here in the wild west, if a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married, and the whole darned neighborhood was involved in that wedding. I mean, you just didn't allow that sort of thing to happen, you know? I mean, they wanted that child to be brought up in a home with two parents, you know, that whole story. And so I happen to believe that can happen again.
I'm sure that will lead to a whole lot of wonderful marriages. There is a reason they don't do shotgun weddings anymore. Think about what life would be like if you married whoever you were going with when you were a sophomore in high school. Besides, given what Mr. Napoli just said about rapists, does this mean that if the girl was not a churchgoer or a virgin, or the rape didn't involve sodomy, that he would suggest that she marry the rapist? I mean, that seems to be the implication if you read all of his statements together.
Further, since the only crime more serious than rape is murder, let's assume that the South Dakota legislators really do equate abortion with murder. In that case, why did they make actually performing one a class A misdemeanor (fine: $5000 to the doctor, and $2000 to the woman; does this mean that if she aborts herself with a coat hanger, she gets charged with two misdemeanors and has to pay $7000?) Either it is murder or it isn't. If it is, then why are they calling it a misdemeanor, and if it isn't, why are they calling it more serious than rape?
Beyond that, there is the whole issue of abortion rights. I blogged on it last July The successes of Liberals in stopping abortion, in one of my relatively early posts. What I said then, I still stand by.
In fact, abortion represents a very real tragedy. Nobody ever has sex just so that they or their partner can end up in an abortion clinic. Have you ever met a woman who was happy about getting an abortion? No one I know outside the Chinese government is 'pro-abortion,' and in fact we as liberals would love it if there were no abortions because every child was wanted. But, it is sadly and tragically not so. Yet. But that is the goal that we are aiming for.
Then I went on to point out that our Liberal program, focusing on sex ed, birth control and family planning has been much more successful over the past decade at reducing the number of abortions (down by a third since peaking in the early 1990's) than all the quixotic attempts by conservatives to ban it. And they've consistently fought against the very measures which we have had success with.
What they want to do is to take away the freedom of reproductive choice. Now, with freedom, are there people who will make choices you or I wouldn't, or that maybe we don't even like? Of course there will be. So what? How is that our business in the first place? Beyond that, one of my commenters had a great insight, which I have adopted. He compared abortion to smoking:
I don't like smoking. Smoking pollutes the air, causes millions of cancers (including some in non-smokers) and has been linked to heart disease, childhood asthma and low birthweight. And besides all that, it stinks. So, I support efforts to fund education about smoking and to help people quit. And those funds have done their job-- the smoking rate in America has gone way down over the past decade since this started. But do I support banning nicotine? NO.
And for that matter, if this becomes law, it is hard to see how it will stop abortion. It may stop doctors, but as I pointed out once before, there are plenty of shady characters (like the ones who run meth labs) who would probably love another opportunity to make a few dollars, this time by preying off desparate women. One can only imagine what kind of sanitary conditions one would find in their hideouts.
To reiterate though, the bottom line is this: abortions prevented by the Liberal plan involving sex ed, family planning, and birth control (supplemented recently by emergency contraceptives): Tens of thousands every year. Abortions prevented by conservatives tying up the courts with attempts to ban it: Zero.
Abortion opponents like those in the South Dakota legislature need to keep in mind that there are a lot of ways to oppose something besides banning it. But maybe they are too narrow in their views to think of any.