Monday, February 27, 2006


Roe vs South Dakota

34 years after George McGovern ran for president — and 33 years after the Supreme Court forbade states from outlawing abortion — some rather less progressive South Dakotans have passed a bill, which Governor Mike Rounds is "inclined" to sign into law, that will outlaw abortion in that state. The timing, of course, is not at all accidental, and this isn't really about South Dakota. The state's legislature is a womb incubating an obvious challenge to the 1973 Roe vs Wade decision, preparing to test whether the Roberts court, with the additions of Justices Roberts and Alito, will overturn what the Burger court decided.

The bill has an exception only where the life of the mother is at risk. If a doctor can't swear that the mother stands a good chance of dying, she may not, if this bill becomes law, perform an abortion to prevent the mother from becoming seriously incapacitated, or to preserve the mother's chance to have children in the future. A pregnant rape victim in South Dakota will be forced to bear the rapist's baby. That any thinking person, even one who opposes abortion in general, can find this acceptable is beyond me.

The stone faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln are looking out at a sorry state right now. We can only hope that, when it comes time for them to hear the resultant case, the Roberts court rules on the side of sense. The legislature of South Dakota has not.


Evan Hempel said...

That any thinking person, even one who opposes abortion in general, can find this acceptable is beyond me.

I believe this whole debate hinges on one key point: "When does a baby/fetus/unwanted tissue/etc become a person?" For those who believe that it happens at conception (this group includes me), then your statement can be flipped - "How can any thinking person condone murder?"

Obviously, there is alot of disagreement on this issue ... and I found it interesting that the SD law includes this very point and defines life as starting at conception. If you were to draw the line between tissue and personhood, where would you draw it?

Barry Leiba said...

Yes, I agree that it's interesting that the law makes a specific point of defining that. And I agree that how one thinks about it depends upon when one considers the fetus a "person", which is why I didn't offer an opinion about abortion in general. What bothers me more than anything else about this is that it doesn't allow an exception for serious, non-life-threatening health issues.

Suppose the mother's teenaged son should come by with a suitable weapon and threaten to cut the mother's leg off. Would she be justified in killing the boy to protect herself, or would she have to stop short of that?

Evan Hempel said...

You bring up a very good point in your last paragraph - I hadn't considered that argument before. I've been considering it for a couple days now, and I'm not certain its the best analogy. In your analogy, the child is choosing an action specifically to harm to the mother. But in the case of abortion for non-life-thereatening health issues the child has made no pre-meditated decision to cause harm

I think the situation is closer to a mother in need of a transplant which only her child can provide - if the transplant is done the child will die, whereas if the transplant is not done the mother will live but with serious health issues. This situation seems rather brutal, but I think it is closer to the issue of abortion for serious non-life-threatening health issues.

I found the scenario I proposed hard to accept as a more valid model (I guess this shows how embedded the devaluation of babies in the womb is in our society), but as far as I have been able to tell, it does seem more accurate.

Barry Leiba said...

Update: As he was inclined to do, Governor Rounds has signed the bill.