The South Dakota Senate passed the latest nibble at women's reproductive rights yesterday, voting 29–5 for House Bill 1130. This measure makes it illegal for abortion providers to accept payment until after women have had a good hard think during South Dakota's minimum 72-hour waiting period.

South Dakota has only one abortion provider, and even proponents acknowledge that such prepayment is not standard practice. HB 1130 thus has little practical effect. But Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell (D-15/Sioux Falls) explains the moral effect of further insult to women:

I’m bothered by the underlying idea that women could possibly, that women take so lightly the idea of what they’re going to do when they have an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy that they might think to themselves – well, gee I was gonna decide to keep the pregnancy but I already wrote the check so ok let’s go. That really bothers me [Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell, quoted in Jackelyn Severin, "Senators Pass Measure Restricting Payments for Abortion Procedures," SDPB Radio, 2015.02.26].

Senate Health and Human Services made a minor amendment to HB 1130, eliminating a line that would have prohibited abortion providers from accepting a commitment for payment. The bill must thus return to the House for concurrence.

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Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) takes his anti-abortion crusade over the top by saying that Planned Parenthood is worse than ISIS:

There are certain revolting methods of execution, such as beheading, that no state would ever permit, even against murderers who use this method on their victims.  It is this revulsion that leads us to rightly condemn the beheadings committed by unconscionably violent soldiers in the Middle East....

Planned Parenthood abortionists in Sioux Falls are similarly beheading unborn children during dismemberment abortions...

No state, no religion, and no organization should ever be allowed to use this unspeakably horrifying method.  While we rightly take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye by holding ISIS accountable, let us be sure to take the plank out of our own eye by holding Planned Parenthood accountable [Rep. Isaac Latterell, "Planned Parenthood Worse Than ISIS and Lying about It," blog, 2015.02.17].

Rep. Latterell gets his specks and planks mixed up. Planned Parenthood is not kidnapping and killing innocent citizens. Planned Parenthood and other providers of counseling and health services do not make gory, sensationalist videos to radicalize and recruit disaffected youth (actually, that's what the anti-abortion crusaders have done to Isaac, and that's what he does now).

Planned Parenthood isn't even performing the kind of abortions Latterell discusses in South Dakota:

Planned Parenthood said it does not perform this abortion procedure and only performs first trimester abortions in South Dakota. Planned Parenthood spokesperson Jennifer Aulwes told TPM that the type of abortion described by Latterell is only performed after the first trimester, and any such abortions would have been performed by a doctor outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic [Caitlin MacNeal, "South Dakota Lawmaker: 'Planned Parenthood Worse Than ISIS'," TPM Livewire, 2015.02.18].

Rep. Latterell simply dismisses Planned Parenthood as liars, saying they must be performing the procedure and not telling the Department of Health. Latterell decorates his irresponsible diatribe with a lie of his own, a photo of a healthy, born baby, who unlike a fetus has constitutional rights and cannot be aborted.

Planned Parenthood promotes women's rights, public health, and science-based education. ISIS uses gore and lies to promote a brutal political regime that would endanger women's health and deny women their rights. If Rep. Latterell really wants to open the door to debating South Dakota legislation by comparing opponents to global terrorists, then he invites the critique that Isaac is a lot like ISIS.

p.s.: The Legislature appears not to recognize the irresponsibility of Rep. Latterell's rhetoric. They have so far failed to behead House Bill 1230, the legislation that commits the same ISIS confabulation about abortion that Rep. Latterell is peddling online. Say it again, people: abortion is a constitutional medical procedure, not terrorism.

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In another attempt to strip South Dakota women of their Constitutional right to control their bodies and seek abortions, Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) has recycled a bill from last year to conflate abortion doctors with ISIS. House Bill 1230 would make "beheading" (that's the term in the bill) a fetus a Class 1 felony. This bill scales back the scope and penalty of the horror-theater abortion legislation Rep. Latterell proposed last year, 2014's HB 1241, which made "dismemberment" a Class 2 felony and "decapitation" a Class B felony (Class B brings a life sentence; Class 1, 50 years; Class 2, 25 years). Rep. Latterell compared abortion to the animal cruelty felonized by the Legislature last year, called abortion "savage", then asked for House Health and Human Services to table his bill with the promise to bring a refined bill next Session.

And now he's back with another bill that will give him a chance to trot out his biased language and grandstand for the single-issue voters in his district. Expect him to tire House Health and Human Services today with his inflammatory and chilling language intended to mask the fact that Rep. Latterell is presuming to tell doctors how to practice.

I could advocate a ban on vaccines by talking about the horror of restraining a screaming, terrfied child while plunging a needle into her flesh and forcing into her blood a potentially deadly organism. I could advocate a ban on surgery by talking about masked men drugging women and then ripping and tearing their naked flesh. But I'd be showing off while ignoring responsible medical practice and basic human rights to autonomy.

Rep. Latterell, just back off. I'm really tired of having to defend my wife and my daughter from you. Isn't one woman enough? Must you keep inserting yourself into the private affairs of every woman in South Dakota?

Abortion is legal, and should be. Women have an unalienable right to control what takes place and what does not within their bodies. If a woman has another organism growing within her body, it is her call, not any legislator's, not any policeman's, not any judge's, as to whether she must continue to bear that organism.

Related Legislative Doctoring: Ken Santema mentions that the Senate prime sponsor of this bill, Sen. Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) is out of commission with a broken arm. Brock's mom Lana (R-2/Doland) said he's having surgery. Perhaps we should hoghouse HB 1230, declare an emergency, and pass a law telling the doctors what thread to use when they stitch Brock up tomorrow. Or maybe we should just ban them from interfering with what God clearly intended for Brock's arm.

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The South Dakota Legislature has before it a bill declaring that personhood begins at conception. House Bill 1212 adds fifteen words to our child abuse statutes:

For purposes of this section, a child conceived, but not born, is deemed a minor.

Conceived, but not born—you know what that means: abortion becomes child abuse. Taking the morning-after pill becomes child abuse. Mess with a fertilized egg (never mind implantation, which science says is when pregnancy starts; we're talking fundies like Hobby Lobby who say the magic moment is when sperm meets egg, if not earlier), and HB 1212 would bust you for a Class 3 felony.

HB 1212 is a total abortion ban in disguise. HB 1212 may also ban in vitro fertilization. Consider standard medical practice in making test-tube babies:

Any embryos that you do not use in your first IVF attempt can be frozen for later use. This will save you money if you undergo IVF a second or third time. If you do not want your leftover embryos, you may donate them to another infertile couple, or you and your partner can ask the clinic to destroy the embryos. Both you and your partner must agree before the clinic will destroy or donate your embryos ["Infertility and In Vitro Fertilization," WebMD, reviewed by Nivin Todd, M.D., 2015.01.18, downloaded 2015.02.13].

Freezing minor children sounds pretty cruel to me. Destroying minor children is most certainly abuse. Cuff those doctors and those heartless infertile parents!

Classifying embryos as minors opens the door to dragging any women who miscarries before a child abuse tribunal. South Dakota law requires doctors, nurses, and mental health professionals, among others, to report suspected child abuse. If any of those professionals encounter a woman who has had a miscarriage, and if they think the woman may have done something that may have caused that miscarriage, HB 1212 would interact with existing statute to compel those health care providers to break their professional confidence and report that woman as a potential child abuser.

House Judiciary was supposed to take up HB 1212 this week, but chairman Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) deferred it to next week, Wednesday, February 18, 10:00 a.m. CST, in Room 413, when it will jostle for attention on the agenda with the Benda-Bollen conflict-of-interest bills, a gun bill, a bill curtailing my ability to make a living doing my Mike Rounds impression, and Rep. Steve Hickey's bill dealing with cases of real child abuse. Let's help focus House Judiciary's attention: contact Chairman Mickelson, Vice-Chairman Mike Stevens (R-18/Yankton), and the other members of this committee over this long weekend (the Legislature doesn't reconvene until Tuesday) to tell them to kill this bill fast and stop trying to sneak abortion bans into South Dakota law.

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What is it about conservative Christians and their inability to simply argue a point on its merits without resorting to hyperbolizing it into the most important thing ever?

In the South Dakota Legislature's continuing obsession with form over substance, Rep. Scott Craig (R-33/Rapid City) declares that a symbolic and hence impotent vote on House Concurrent Resolution 1004 is the most important thing any legislator will do this session:

Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, read from the final lines of the resolution that say the court erred and that ask the court to let states make the decisions on abortion.

“These are your words,” Craig told House members. “This is by far the most significant yes vote any one of us can cast this session” [Bob Mercer, "SD House Wants End to Legal Abortion," Rapid City Journal, 2015.01.29].

Rep. Craig apparently mistakes a stemwinding sermon for real statecraft. No vote on any resolution, even this ponderous 6750-word monster, will exceed in practical import any bill, no matter how small, that changes the law and the rules under which our democratic society functions. Yesterday's speeches and votes on HCR 1004 won't feed any kids, free any oppressed women, or, frankly, stop one abortion or unplanned pregnancy or instance of scandalous premarital sex.

I guess we have to keep reminding legislators of physics: Work is force applied over a distance. Rep. Craig and friends can exert their rhetorical force all day on their culture-war issues, but if they don't move practical results, they aren't getting any work done. Get to work, Legislature.

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Todd Epp stirs the pot with an unsourced story claiming that the contest between Jeff Barth and Ann Tornberg to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party could hinge on their apparently conflicting stances on abortion:

Pro-Barth party activists point out that in Tornberg’s unsuccessful 2014 run for the District 16 state Senate race, she called herself “pro-life” as well as note her ties to other pro-life groups and legislators. The activists say the Democrats at the 2014 state convention adopted a pro-choice platform and that Barth is pro-choice [Todd Epp, "South Dakota Democratic Party Chairmanship May Turn on Abortion Stand," Northern Plains New, 2014.12.12].

Epp's anonymous sources don't specify that votes today at the SDDP Central Committee meeting in Oacoma will swing on that policy difference. We have heard this abortion rumble here in the comment section.

But hey, you Democrats waking up this morning on the Missouri River, listen up:

If you are thinking of casting your vote for party chair based solely on the abortion issue, stop.

Today you are electing a party chair. You are electing an administrator, not a policymaker. You are electing someone to raise money, organize volunteers, and win elections. Delegates in 2016, not the chair, will determine whether "reproductive rights" remain in the party platform (the Sioux Falls paper tells me that's what the platform says, but I can't check, because the SDDP never appears to have updated the website with this year's platform, an administrative thing the new chair should tell the exec to do!). Legislators, not the chair, will decide what issues to focus on in Pierre. Candidates, not the chair, will decide what issues get the spotlight in 2016.

SDDP Central Committee members, if you are voting today on abortion, you are voting in the wrong election. You want to fight about abortion? Petition an initiative to repeal South Dakota's mandatory counseling and 72-hour-plus waiting period for abortion. But today, pick someone who can do the job.

Related Thought Puzzle: What impact did SDGOP chairman Craig Lawrence's position on reproductive rights have on the 2014 election?

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To make your raisin bran soggier, here is the East River Concerned Citizens postcard attacking Rep. Kathy Tyler:

East River Concerned Citizens attack postcard (front), October 2014

(click to embiggen!)

East River Concerned Citizens attack postcard (back), October 2014

(click to embiggen!)

ERCC PAC boss Spencer Cody continues the lie he began last March of calling Rep. Tyler a liar for daring to disagree with him on policy. Cody's own card is filled with lies:

  • Rep. Tyler actually voted for 2014's HB 1162 both times it came before the full House during the 2014 session. HB 1162 became law. The amendment for which Tyler voted on the House floor still said sex-selective abortions are wrong and against state policy.
  • 2014's HB 1180 did not require neutrality of "Pregnancy Health Centers." HB 1180 excluded organizations that provide adoption and/or abortion services from offering the state-mandated counseling. Pregnancy health centers are not neutral: state law empowers them to actively discourage abortion.
  • 2013's HB 1237 did not fix a loophole. Pre-1237, South Dakota's oppressive 72-hour waiting period was consistent for every woman seeking an abortion. HB 1237 created an exception forcing women to wait even longer if the waiting period included a weekend. The bill was a blatant ploy to punish women even further for seeking an abortion by maximizing the economic impact of having to take off work from regular shifts to seek this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Given all these votes on the record, Rep. Kathy Tyler would appear to be perfectly "candid" and "up front" about her positions. Cody is implying that Rep. Tyler is a liar when she clearly is not... and when his own propaganda falls far from candor.

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I like Oren Lesmeister. The Democratic District 28 Senate candidate took time to talk to me about his politics in the middle of a hard-driving campaign. He spoke freely about most issues, and I can roll with most of his positions. On sheer image, he brings a rugged cowboy ethos that challenges the stereotype of Democrats as something other than true South Dakotan. With hat, cattle, and the mustache that I maintain would have added ten points to Larry Rhoden's and Chris Nelson's tallies, Lesmeister projects the image of the cowboy that many South Dakotans think they are.

Oren Lesmeister, Democrat for District 28 Senate.

Oren Lesmeister, Democrat for District 28 Senate.

But on two important question in our conversation, Lesmeister showed no desire to take the bull by the horns, exemplifying an uncowboylike weakness too common among South Dakota Democrats.

What sparked my interest in interviewing Lesmeister were the embarrassing racist comments of his opponent, Republican Representative Betty Olson. Democrat Joe Lowe of Rapid City has said her blanket insult to all Muslim Americans, as well as her perpetuation of the racist lie that President Obama is a Muslim, warrants her resignation.

I thought maybe Lesmeister would have something to say about Rep. Olson's racism. He did not. When we set up the interview, Lesmeister's diligent campaign manager, Ethan Marsland, ruled out any comment on the topic. When I spoke with Lesmeister directly, he maintained that line. When I asked if Lesmeister at least recognized that the President of the United States is a natural-born citizen, Lesmeister declined comment.

It's one thing not to want to get involved in another candidate's media storm. It's a similar thing not to want to go negative. But it's a whole 'nother thing to decline comment on a statement of fact, documented time and time again against a vile campaign of racist myth-making. We have a moral obligation to defend basic truth against both ignorance and malice. John McCain had the guts to challenge the "Obama is an Arab" lies of his own supporters in 2008; Oren Lesmeister should have the guts to challenge his opponent's lingering birtherism in 2014.

Lesmeister also let me down with his response on abortion. I ask candidates about abortion with trepidation, because I recognize that South Dakota Republicans like to use abortion to dog whistle their base and use emotion and pictures of babies to distract us from all their other awful policies. But abortion deserves attention, because Republicans (and some complicit Democrats) have imposed insulting, paternalistic, and dangerous restrictions on women's constitutional rights.

When I posed the general question about women's rights, Lesmeister's campaign manager paused our conversation for a muted confab with his candidate. When Lesmeister opened the line again, he spoke of the need for better enforcement of laws to protect women from violence and trafficking. When I redirected the question toward abortion restrictions like our 72-hour waiting period. Lesmeister said a legislator should never decide such issues. He said abortion is too big of an issue. He said he would not support any further legislative interference with abortion and would want any abortion measures submitted to the ballot so all voters can decide.

Lesmeister's response sounded very much like District 14 Democratic House candidate Chris McClure's position of leaving the status quo alone and not presuming as one man to comment on the appropriateness of legal restrictions on abortion. Like McClure's position, it sounds like a poorly cloaked dodge:

  1. You cannot say, "Legislators should not decide abortion," and then accept the decisions legislators have made on abortion.
  2. If abortion is so "big" that the Legislature should defer all rule-making to ballot initiatives, then what about gay rights, Medicaid expansion, education funding, or the state budget in toto, all of which were bigger issues in the 2014 Legislature than abortion? I see no constitutional or philosophical provision setting a bar of "bigness" over which the duly elected representatives of the people are incapable of intelligent discourse and lawmaking. I see political calculation that says, "I'm afraid voters will disagree with me, and I don't have the guts to defend my position."
  3. Candidates have an obligation to lead intelligent conversations. To shrug off a major question of the day by saying, "Let's do whatever the people want" avoids an intelligent and necessary conversation.
  4. Democrats have an obligation to change the narrative. Republicans like Betty Olson bank on our cowardice. They bank on our leaving their restrictions and stigmatization of abortion unchallenged. They bank on casual observers voting on unexamined emotional responses to shouts of "We love babies!" instead of vigorous public debate of the real constitutional implications of treating women as second-class citizens.

Rick Weiland is in a very different race from the Lesmeister–Olson tilt. Abortion hasn't figured prominently in the U.S. Senate race, but Weiland has not been afraid to distinguish himself from the field by saying he's the only candidate who would not repeal Roe v. Wade. He may not win on that issue, but he's getting the support he needs to have a fighting chance... and he's saying the right thing.

Weiland doesn't run around in a cowboy hat, but he isn't afraid to cowboy up on the issues.

When faced with misogyny and racism, "no comment" is not the right answer for cowboys, Democrats, South Dakotans, or anybody. When Betty Olson spreads a racist lie about the President, and when Betty Olson passes laws that hurt women, we have an obligation to point those facts out and encourage voters to reject her racism and misogyny.

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