Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Anti-Choicers Try to Revive the South Dakota Abortion Ban

In 2006, the South Dakota legislature passed a ban on abortion in all cases except to save the life of the pregnant woman. The ban was not only devastating for the women of South Dakota; it was a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Planned Parenthood and other family planning organizations challenged the measure through a referendum and allowed voters to decide. They resoundingly rejected the ban by with 56% of the vote.

Since then, anti-choice groups have repeatedly tried to revive the initiative, this time allowing exceptions for rape, incest and physical health of the pregnant woman. All other abortions would be illegal, and if passed the law would still be a direct challenge to Roe. Common sense legislators, realizing that the citizens of the state had spoken and wanted their lawmakers to drop the bitter ideological battles, shot the measure down. But that didn't stop the anti-choice groups; they started a petition to send the abortion ban back to the 2008 ballot.

On Monday, they claimed to have turned in three times the number of signatures required to add the measure to the November ballot.

The new language was drafted by South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long, state Rep. Roger W. Hunt (R) and 20 other lawyers. As with the 2006 initiative, passage would probably trigger a lawsuit that could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court and provide an opportunity to reconsider its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

"My job is to protect the women of South Dakota," said Leslee Unruh, executive director. If abortion rights advocates "follow what they've done in the past, suing, they'll probably sue on this one, as well. We're prepared for that; we've done due diligence in the preparation for this law."

The sponsors said their polls show that a majority of South Dakotans support the initiative with the exceptions.

The Campaign for Healthy Families, formed by Planned Parenthood and other groups to fight the 2006 initiative, said the new proposal is still too restrictive.

A woman would have to report rape or incest to police before seeking an abortion to qualify for that exception. "A woman who is the victim of incest and is 13, being raped by her father, is highly unlikely to report that," said Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

Opponents also said the definition of a health risk to the woman is too narrow because the language implies a doctor would have to be certain the woman's health was threatened and excludes mental and emotional issues as health exceptions.

Stoesz is absolutely right. Sexual assault is grossly under reported, and the legislation requires that a report of rape or incest be made with law enforcement in order for an abortion to be authorized on those grounds. The full text of the bill can be read here (pdf). In it, you will find language requiring women to file reports with full personal information, as well as full information about their rapists. It would also require DNA samples from the woman and aborted fetus to be sent to authorities. And as one final deterrent, all of the documentation would become a part of the woman's official medical records, including the police report with all of the rapist's information.

Forcing a woman who has already made the decision to not report a rape to reopen wounds by reporting the assault, submitting to DNA tests and having the information exist as a part of all permanent records is cruel and unnecessary. It's particularly disturbing because the women have already suffered the additional trauma of having become pregnant by their rapists. Worst of all, these requirements could put many women in danger.

A woman who cannot handle the process of having to report her rape could potentially resort to drastic measures to end the pregnancy herself. Furthermore, the health exception does not include exceptions for mental or emotional health reasons. A woman too distressed to report her rape would not receive a reprieve. Neither would a woman who feels that she will attempt suicide if forced to continue her pregnancy. And this is to say nothing of the women who lack any recourse at all. Women who have not been raped and do not have a mental health condition may still be driven to self-harm, or unsafe and illegal abortion procedures. Unsafe abortion can cause irreparable harm to a woman's reproductive system and even her death (and regularly does in countries where abortion is illegal).

These are not pleasant circumstances to discuss. They are disturbing, difficult and distressing. Sadly, they are also reality. And if this ban were to pass, far too many women would be placed in this danger.

A Rapid City Journal blogger says of the previously defeated initiative that "Forcing women to give birth to their rapist’s child was indeed over the line for many women, and men, too, I suspect." Sadly, this version of the bill would carry exactly the same risks. While some women would be able to obtain an exception, it would not be without great distress. The rest would be forced "to give birth to their rapist's child," incur the expense of traveling out of state, or attempt to induce an abortion by illegal and unsafe measures. Women seeking abortions who did not become pregnant through rape would face similarly limited and distressing choices. Are these the kind of options that South Dakota citizens would really want for women living in their state?

We can certainly hope not, but just like in 2006, the initiative will not go down without a fight. This bill will likely enjoy higher popularity, receive a ton of misleading promotion from anti-choice groups, and cost women's health groups a small fortune to set the record straight.

You can donate to the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, a non-partisan group comprised of Planned Parenthood and other local family planning organizations for the purpose of defeating any South Dakota abortion ban legislation. You can also stay in the know by signing up to receive email updates from the group.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for "telling it like it really" is! I hope the sensible citizens of South Dakota rise up one more time to tell Leslie Unruh what they think of her scheme to put women's lives in jeopardy.