Last updated on 2011.12.30
With 10% budget cuts from which to recover, with the federal aid that keeps our state afloat drying up, with family farms and dairies still declining, with students struggling to afford to college, the South Dakota Legislature is getting ready to debate abortion. Again.
South Dakota's latest effort to make women subservient to the state may be a "fetal pain" bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. According to Rep. Steve Hickey's best guess, a 20-week ban would stop maybe a dozen abortions, or 1.5% of South Dakota's total annual abortions.
1.5%. Peanuts. We could make our abortion rate drop by 50%, maybe 66%, if we followed France, Germany, and the Netherlands and conducted public health campaigns encouraging contraceptive use.
But Rep. Don Kopp makes clear why abortion politics is so appealing to some conservatives:
Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City, said earlier this month that he believes it might be time for the state to take a break and let its current abortion laws work their way through the courts. But when told about the 20-week ban, Kopp said that sounds important enough that he could support it.
"I think that if you're saving a life, that's probably more important than lawsuits or money," he said [David Montgomery, "Ban Proposed on Abortions after 20 Weeks," Rapid City Journal, 2011.12.26].
Some pols love dragging abortion to the floor of the Legislature every chance they get because they can shut off their brains. No nuances, no serious fiscal analysis, no honest research... to defend an abortion ban, you just have to shout, "We're saving babies!" Such absolutes trump everything... including reasoned political discourse and problem-solving.
Meanwhile, it will fall to us defenders of women's equality and autonomy to make the more complicated arguments... and yes, life is more complicated than Rep. Kopp, Rep. Roger Hunt, Rep. Jenna Haggar, and South Dakota Right to Life would have you believe. We'll have to explain patiently that the best scientific evidence available says fetuses probably can't perceive pain until the third trimester, perhaps around week 29 or 30. We'll also have to note that, even if you accept the inevitable bogus research from Priscilla Coleman or David Reardon that attempts to posit earlier dates of fetal perception, fetal pain still doesn't trump a woman's Constitutional right to obtain an abortion. My friend Bill Fleming links to a good articulation of this argument:
...[I]magine a woman who finds herself attached (though no fault of her own) to a famous violinist as a human dialysis machine, and is told that if she disconnects herself before the end of nine months, the violinist will die.36 If we think the woman has the right to "disconnect" herself, then that suggests that abortion ought to be lawful even if a fetus is a person, since the violinist is no doubt a person.
Now imagine we make explicit what might be thought implicit in Thomson's hypothetical: the violinist will suffer significant pain due to the disconnection. Does it make a difference as to our view of whether the woman may disconnect herself, as compared to the case where disconnection will result in the violinist's painless death? If it is not dispositive, then this once again suggests that the addition of fetal pain should not automatically trump the exercise of a woman's abortion rights, even for those who think fetuses are persons [I. Glenn Cohen and Sadath Sayeed, "Fetal Pain, Abortion, Viability, and the Constitution," The Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, 2011.05.11].
Rep. Steve Hickey will surely protest, but the above argument neatly encapsulates the fundamental problem with the long, sad parade of anti-abortion legislation in South Dakota: such proposals inherently assume the state has a right to force a woman to submit her body to the service of another being. That's why we need to contact our legislators before they head to Pierre and tell them not to monkey with anyone's uterus this session.