07 March 2006

Where Have I Been?

OK, so I know I don't live in the country any longer. And yes, I've been really busy over the past two weeks trying frantically to draft this chapter of the book (on Butler's ontology, if you're interested). But still, I try to keep up with what's going on in the world, and I somehow managed not to see this one coming.

South Dakota bans abortion. Yes, that's a total ban. It's illegal. No excpetions for rape or incest, and while there is an exception to protect the life of the mother, the Bill is worded to strongly indicate that her life should not be seen to outweigh that of the unborn baby.

Many will respond with outrage over the way that this limits the reproductive rights of women. I've no intention to downplay that. However, with only one abortion clinic in the entire state, women's reproductive rights in South Dakota (as in many states in the US) were already severely constrained. In many places, access to an abortion is already limited to those who are adults, with plenty of money, and plenty of social resources to rely on. What I mean is: you need to be over 18 (because of consent), you need to have the time and resources to travel to a clinic, and you need people to support you along the way. The 'right to abortion' was severely curtailed long before yesterday.

Given that, I want to rant about two other things. First, there is Governor's statement concerning the Bill. He opens with this:
"In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society"
So I'm assuming that South Dakota has already done away with homelessness, severe poverty, domestic abuse, and all the other evils of the world that affect 'the most vulnerable and most helpless'. Good for them.

Second, there is the sheer flouting of Federal law. I mean, what's next? Alabama passes segregation laws? Utah outlaws alcohol? Texas secedes? I know, maybe Maryland can place a tax on the Federal bank!


Kate said...

The past few weeks, I've felt like a wind up toy that hit a wall - not really knowing what to do or say or how to move in the face of this overwhelming, saddening, maddening news from South Dakota. I've just been angry and all I can come up with is "this is wrong and I'm frightened to the core" and then I get stuck and flabbergasted.
Your two arguments just snapped me out of it - just picture me nodding my head emphatically and applauding your words here and that sums it up. Thanks Sam.

tenaciousmcd said...

Sam, without taking anything away from your outrage, I'd point out that this law is manna from pro-choice heaven.

Abortion was already dead as a practical matter in SD, but in a quiet way. Now it is loudly dead. That's a good thing for you, just like Bull Connor was good for MLK and the Intolerable Acts were good for Sam Adams, et al. Pro-lifers have been gaining ground on abortion for 30 years thanks to the Supreme Court's impolitic meddling and the incoherent constitutional logic of Roe. That gave the P-Ls a rallying cry. But now, they've "jumped the shark" themselves. Public opinion on this issue is decidely middling: keep it legal, but make it rare. As long as Roe was the dominant public symbol of where the law stood, this meant that the middle had some sympathy for the "restrict it" crowd. But now that balance may start tilting the other way. Of course, the Supremes may strike down the law, which could restore the old status quo. Presumably, they've still got a 5-4 pro-Roe majority, although Kennedy would allow lots of restrictions, like "partial-birth" bans. I don't know that he could vote to uphold the SD law, however, and I'd look for his libertarian streak to come out again here, as it did in Lawrence or Roemer. That said, I'd argue that the best thing for pro-choicers would be for the Supremes to uphold SD. Talk about backlash! Just remember that history does not simply "progress" and rights once won are never assured in perpetuity.

Liz said...

I know it's supposed to be a good thing, and a rallying point for pro-choicers -- but, oh my god -- today it just seems arrogant and terrifying. F*%$#ers.

Sam said...

Tmcd, you write: 'Just remember that history does not simply "progress" and rights once won are never assured in perpetuity'.

And I say, EXCELLENT point, but make sure to cite me next time!

Yes, I agree on that point completely (and have tried to argue it in print). And I also see your larger argument about the backlash. Indeed, I don't disagree with your overall logic. But at the same time as I can reasonably see the political implications, I still find the news from SD shocking and appalling.

Mark Salada said...

Extremists have been waiting to pounce on a favorable Supreme Court for a long time. With Alito and Roberts newly arrived, the time was ripe. I am a bit startled at how quickly it happened (Alito's seat isn't even warm), but not surprised. And from sleepy South Dakota! Last challenge to R v W was in 1992, and we're way past the seven year itch.

How does the saying go? May you live in interesting times? Indeed. This time, however, I feel the urge to do more than watch...

sageblue said...

My favorite response to this "news"--over at firedoglake--was a conversation between men on this topic. One guy basically told the other, younger men that, you'd better watch what you drink, because one night of beergoggles could equal 18 years of child support. And, before RvW, we didn't have DNA testing.

This is all flippant and such (and there are other interesting discusssions, such as, if they're all so pro-life, why did they make it a class B felony and not, oh I don't know, MURDER? and what about the mother? she isn't charged with anything? not even as an accessory?), but perhaps men might get their heads out of their penises and realize that this affects them as well. Perhaps the Lysistratas out there will be joined by some of their brothers.

paul begala said...

Insightful post from tenaciousmcd. People who think an empty legal principle will protect their rights have forgotten how those rights were won -- with blood and guts, tears and toil. Rights can only be gained and sustained through persistent organizing on the grass-roots level. American progressives, from NOW to the labor movement, have turned to lawyers to protect their rights rather than grass-roots and in the process have forgotten how to organize. In the long run, this move by S.D. will redound to the left's advantage, because it will spur some return to mobilization, or it better (although unfortunately probably not in time for creating a perfect storm scenario the 2006 tsunami).

And let's be serious, how many abortion doctors are there in S.D. right now, anyways? According to the December 27, 2005 Washington Post article linked below, the last doctor based in S.D. who performed abortions left S.D. eight years ago, and abortions are only available one day a week at one Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls on one side of a state 500 miles across, and that clinic only with doctors from Minneapolis flown in. That's how hollow the right supposedly "guaranteed" by Roe is in practice. Even though polls from S.D. itself, not nationwide, show 62% opposed to this law.

As someone famous once said, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.


Tarn said...

I don't have a pithy quote or anything... despite my personal outrage over the SD ban, I just have to comment on your last paragraph about "sheer flouting of federal law..." Isn't that the same argument that's out there over medical marijuana in Oregon?

Sam said...

Tarn: I wouldn't doubt that some folks in Oregon are using the 'flouting Federal law' rhetoric, but I'd say the parallels stop there. I don't know federal drug law well, but in order for it to be the same thing as what I'm griping about, we would have to have a history here - a history in which some states made marijuana legal and other states made it illegal, and then a big battle, and then a huge supreme court decision that said, 'states shall not legalise marijuana!'. If all that had happened, then simply passing a law saying marijuana is legal (everywhere, all the time), would be pretty obvious flouting of federal law. So I was serious, in a way, the analogy would be to reinstituting segregation laws!