Thursday, February 23, 2006

Well, This Didn't Take Long...

By far the most publicized issue concerning the appointments of Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court has been their potential impact on a woman's right to reproductive choice, protected by Roe vs. Wade. The possibility that abortion rights could be curtailed or eliminated entirely under a Republican-controlled court is a very real possibility, but one that hinges upon a case being brought that challenges the constitutionality of the Roe vs. Wade decision.

Leave it to the State Senate of South Dakota to get that ball rolling (via lapin at Dkos):

The South Dakota State Senate just passed a bill banning all forms of abortion except when the life of the mother is endangered.

The Senate's version is slightly different the House's version, so it must be approved by the House before going to Governor Mike Rounds for signature. He has indicated he would sign the bill.

The passage of this bill was undoubtedly aided by the ascendancy of Sam Alito to the SCOTUS.

It's clear, at least to me, exactly what is intended by this bill: to force a showdown in the Supreme Court. This law is clearly unconstitutional as written and no doubt the lawmakers and governor of South Dakota realize this. The Anti-choice Right needs a test case to get Roe vs. Wade into judicial review by the new "conservative" court (I use scare quotes because the government infringing upon an American's personal sex life is NOT a conservative position by any stretch) and I'm actually a little surprised at how quickly they moved on this. This bill is so broad that it really challenges any basic notion of the legality of abortion, and it should be very instructive watching it work its way through the courts. Of course, the saddest part is that some poor woman seeking an abortion in South Dakota will forever have to sacrifice her right to privacy and spend the rest of her life being vilified by some of the vilest idealogues in the country because she'll be the first South Dakota woman denied an abortion who challenged having her rights stripped away by the tyranny of the majority. It's a sacrifice she should never have to be make, but one that will likely need to be made all the same.

As for the law itself, I find it actually more ideologically defensible from the Anti-choice Right's perspective than most abortion-restricting bills (such as the boneheaded "Partial Birth Abortion" ban). One of the most oft repeated justifications for outlawing abortion by the Right has been the claim that they are protecting "innocent children". Thus, it has always seemed hypocritical to me that these same folks support the right of abortion in the cases of rape and incest. The child is no less innocent for the sins of its conception. So at least the South Dakota bill shows some ideological consistency, a precious commodity in the "Party of Moral Values".

Of course, abortion bans have never been about the children. If that were the case, then the anti-abortion crowd would support contraception and sexual education, which they almost unanimously don't. It's about the sex. They see pregnancy and parenthood as the proper punishment for women who engage in sexual relations for reasons other than child-bearing. It's a strange snake of an argument, one that eats its own tail. Pregnancy is either a gift or a punishment but, most importantly to the "family values" folks, the woman must never be allowed to determine which it is after it occurs. If the woman wanted a baby, then the pregnancy is a blessing. If she didn't, then it's her rightful punishment for engaging in sexual congress.

At it's most basic, of course, abortion always comes down to one thing: who has the power? Either women have power over their own bodies or the state, selected by the will of the majority, has that power. The state can't govern morality. Women wishing to end a pregnancy will end it, regardless of the law. Anyone alive prior to Roe vs. Wade knows that to be true. In countries where abortion is illegal today, such as the Philippines, abortions happen every day. But the rates of complications are astronomically higher, because women seeking abortions either do it themselves or get unsafe "back alley" abortions. The fetus still gets aborted, but maybe so does the life of the mother who, even if she survives, faces a lifetime of social stigma for her actions. But then, perhaps many on the Right here in America think that's a just punishment for abortion. It is, after all, a profoundly sexist political position, the anti-choice movement, and is anything but "pro-life".

At the end of the day, banning abortion does nothing but make abortions more dangerous and more difficult. No law will ever truly make a woman give up the rights to her own body, not in South Dakota nor anywhere else. Only preventing unwanted pregnancies can prevent abortions, and until the Right embraces the only methods that actually prevent unwanted pregnancies, sex education and contraception, then they really have nothing substantial to bring to the table. Just a medieval belief in the subservient role of women which is completely out of step with the modern world.

Update: ReddHedd adds a degree of depth to this issue that I couldn't even hope to:

And now, some young girl in South Dakota who is raped and finds herself pregnant will be forced to carry the child of her rapist, feeling it grow and move, a daily reminder of the rape -- with the flashbacks, the terror, the nightmares, the gut-wrenching fear -- everything that you have to overcome after being raped, along with handling the emotions and the responsibilities that come along with a pregnancy.

Wealthy women will be able to travel to other states and obtain an abortion. But, as with so many other things, the poor will be disproportionately affected because they will not be able to pay to travel, stay overnight somewhere, have an abortion and then get the necessary adequate follow-up medical care, let alone the necessary counseling.

Poor women will face the unenviable choice of carrying the child of a rapist or a child conceived of incest (imagine the hell of being impregnated by your own father for a moment)...or perhaps the choice of a back-alley, unsafe abortion and then the resulting sterility or worse, an infection that leads to death, that caused abortion laws to be fought so hard for in the 1970s.

Being pro-life does not mean that you can only value the life of the fetus while it is in the womb. If you are pro-life, you have to value all life. You have to work to make life better for all living people. Not just the ones that live in your sterile, gated community or who attend your Laura Ashley-dressed church ladies society or who volunteer at the PTA.

Life is ugly, messy and unfair. Last time I read my Bible, Christ asked his followers to do for the least of his bretheren as they would do for the highest of them.

Last I checked, rape and incest victims didn't ask for the violent, terrifying, horrible action taken against them. But clearly someone in South Dakota disagrees.

I highly suggest you read the rest of her post at firedoglake. It's too personal to her for me to re-print here but it really puts this issue into perspective.

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