Abortion

By Vendela Englblom

The recent South Dakota criminalization of abortion demonstrates that, rather than looking out for unborn children, the current pending anti-abortion laws are trying to inhibit women’s rights to control their own bodies. Our neighbor state is not the only one: 11 other states are currently considering similar legislation, and the Supreme Court recently agreed to review President Bush’s Federal Abortion Ban. South Dakota is at the front of the line; if one looks closer at the motivations behind South Dakota House Bill 1215, the law is a perfect representation of the profound disregard for female mental and physical health that lies beneath the present pro-life legislative movements.

Under the guise of protecting fetuses, the South Dakota law represents a serious danger to the health of the mother. The bill only allows for abortions where they save the life of the mother; this provision replaces the phrase “to preserve the mother’s health,” used nationwide in previous reproductive rights bills. This linguistic shift has concrete repercussions: what if carrying to term will make the woman sterile, but will not kill her? Or what if she has been raped? There are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest in the new law. South Dakota legislators apparently do not see the unpleasant implications of controlling pregnancies of women who have gone through crimes where their bodies were under the control of someone else. In this context, Governor Mike Rounds’ statement when signing the bill that “the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society” seems tragically comic.

South Dakota Senator Bill Napoli makes it abundantly clear that the perspective on women’s rights underlying the bill is aimed at making women conform to outdated gender roles and at severely limiting their personal choices. When asked what he saw as a possible case for being allowed an abortion, he responded: “A real-life description would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.”

By insisting that only a victim of a more extreme' rape merits an abortion, the senator demonstrates a profound ignorance of the gravity of the crime and its impact on the woman's health. He also attributes a special moral damage to religious girls who are raped. Evidently, aregular’ rape victim, or one who is not religious, should be able to carry her child to term. The senator also encourages a return to the shotgun weddings of old, when the whole neighborhood got together to make sure a boy married the girl he had impregnated. He sees the bill as a return to more “traditional values,” and claims there is nothing detrimental about an enforced marriage. In this way, he asserts, the “convenience” of abortion would no longer be necessary.

What the Senator fails to grasp is that abortion is not a matter of convenience. Dr Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe v. Wade, defines personal control over reproduction as absolutely essential for gender equality. Without it, women cannot choose when to advance in their career and when to have children; this way, they are barred from completely participating in the workforce. It is evident that the current anti-abortion movement aims to restrict women from reproductive freedom, and thus from a life in which their choices can be freely made.

And South Dakota is not alone. Following House Bill 1215, 11 states are jumping on the anti-choice bandwagon, and so is the Supreme Court. President Bush’s Federal Abortion Ban ostensibly only outlaws so-called partial birth abortions, but the language in the bill could easily be re-interpreted to cover more than the procedure it claims to forbid. Even Minnesota is considering and has approved laws that, while they do not directly outlaw abortion, aim to complicate access. Currently up for review is a bill that requires reports of all abortions performed; we have previously passed, among other restrictive bills, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and a parental notification act. Previous to passing House Bill 1215, South Dakota was already the state that had the most difficult process for obtaining an abortion. Only one clinic offered the procedure, and there were numerous smaller legislative roadblocks to access. Evidently, it is a dangerous time to be a woman. We need to make it clear to Governor Pawlenty that we will not tolerate any reduction of our rights. Minnesota should never become South Dakota.

Contact Vendela Engblom ’07 at [email protected]