2006-03-07 - 9:08 a.m.
South Dakota has banned all abortions--with the sole exception for the life of the mother. Not health, but only life. If you're going into kidney failure, tough shit--you can get dialysis. If delivering a child at 23 weeks is going to screw up your body so much you can never have another child (and let's not kid ourselves about the survival chances of your baby at 23 weeks), tough shit. If you are a twelve-year old girl whose been gang-raped, tough shit. Found a malignant growth in your fifth week? Forget about starting potentially life-saving cancer treatment for the next 35 weeks. To quote one of the sponsors, only if your very life is at stake will you be allowed to have an abortion.
Obviously, this legislation was passed specifically so it could go to the Supreme Court and overtune Roe v. Wade. I actually have a couple thoughts on this. First is that there is no way the Supreme Court could uphold this law. Regardless of where you stand on choice, I can't imagine five justices upholding a law that gives no consideration to a woman's health. So as scary as this law is, I think it is too extreme to overturn Roe v. Wade.
My second thought is that it doesn't matter. Roe v. Wade doesn't need to be overturned. States can continue to pass legislation that increasingly restrict not only when an abortion may be peformed, but also a woman's access to an abortion. Parental notification laws, laws requiring a clinic to conform to the same standards as an ambulatory surgery, laws making it a felony to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion. Soon only the rich and privileged will be able to get abortions, whereas the poor women, the disenfranchised women, the underage women--in short, the women who could least handle the financial, physical and emotional burdens of a child--will be denied access.
Meanwhile, where's the increased government funding for programs such as Head Start? Where's the full funding for the IDEA? Where's the money to help out all these new lives that we are forcing into the world? Believe it or not, there are families who cannot afford to have another child. But I don't see our government stepping up to provide automatic health coverage for all children born with severe disabilities--or for any children, for that matter. I don't see our government willing to foot the bill for prenatal and neonatal care.
In the end, though, this is what really scares me: I don't think it will stop here. I don't think it will stop with banning all abortions. I think we're going to see people trying to ban emergency contraception in all cases, including rape. I think we're going to see attempts to ban hormonal birth control pills. People who think it is just and ethical to force a women to carry a pregnancy to term at grave risk to her health are capable of anything. Anything.
Please visit bioethicsforum.org for a great essay on this.
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