Wednesday, March 8

Under God the People Rule (On the South Dakota Abortion Ban)

My mother was a legislator in South Dakota for ten years, and I got to know many of that state's politicians when I was growing up. Some of them are still in office, and are partly responsible for the current attempt to ban abortion. Contrary to what some of their opponents may think, they do not carry bibles everywhere they go, and they have only one head each. They are farmers, ranchers, and small business-people who have real lives outside of politics. They have an annoying habit of saying that they are "tickled" rather than "pleased". Pro-Choice forces will note, with appropriate alarm, that an unnerving number of them are Democrats.

The outcome I'm hoping for is simple: I hope this goes to the Supreme Court, and that Roe V. Wade will be overturned. (Loading Blackmun's original document into a rocket and firing it into the sun would be a nice touch.) That's all I want. After that, the state itself might turn around and recind the ban under some future majority, as the issue will henceforth be at the mercy of democratic federalism.

I do not want a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. I want the federal government - congress, courts, and chief executives - to get out of the abortion business, and stay the hell out of it, forever.

This will not end abortion, not in Patricia Ireland's wildest paranoid dreams. It will continue indefinitely in the great majority of states. Pro-Lifers will have to live with that, because this is a nation subject to democratic rule. It is the greatest nation that anybody ever thought of, but it is not utopia and it is not the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Of course, Pro-Choicers will not be happy either, because they are generally opposed to any limits on abortion, or even the possibility of limits.

So why am I wishing so much unhappiness for everybody on both sides? For the same reason that teenagers have to pick up their rooms once in a while, and learn trigonometry. They don't like it, but they'll thank you for it some day - well, maybe they won't thank you, but they have to learn it anyway. That's the drill.

Roe V. Wade has been a clumsy dodge that has prevented this country from directly confronting the issue of abortion. That confrontation must come, and it must boil to equilibrium by democratic means and not by autocratic fiat. There is no shortage of opinion about abortion, but there is a serious lack of reason about it. We can't end the controversy by pretending that it is a done deal, one way or the other. We'll just suffer it forever, like the symptoms of a disease we are not allowed to diagnose.

UPDATE: For those who are wondering exactly how much impact this law would have if it survives: There is currently only one abortion provider in South Dakota. For many years there was none at all.

There was a single abortion provider in South Dakota during the 1970s, Dr. Benjamin Munson. In 1977 a South Dakota woman named Linda Padfield died after a botched abortion which left most of the fetus inside of her, causing infection. Munson was tried for manslaughter but acquitted because the state could not prove intent to kill. Abortion rights groups donated to his defense fund, but he might have been convicted if the judge had not instructed the jury to acquit.

Munson began performing abortions in 1967. He was the original back-alley coat-hanger guy. (And yet he was admitted as a member of the National Abortion Federation - how did that happen? Don't they frisk people for coat hangers?) Needless to say, Munson did not give abortion a good rep in South Dakota. He was easily the most hated man in the state for a long time.

The abortion rate in South Dakota is about 5 per 1000 births, compared to a national average of 20-25 per 1000.

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