Choice on the chopping block

The passage of legislation in South Dakota that criminalizes abortion puts the rights of all women in jeopardy. The cold, historically conservative Rocky Mountain state passed the most sweeping ban on abortion less than two weeks ago. Ironically enough, it was signed into law two days before International Women’s Day.

Americans on the side of choice always presumed that their right to choose would be constitutionally protected. Although I hate to think of myself as a single-issue voter, I encouraged everyone to vote against George W. Bush in 2004 because of the potential openings on the U.S. Supreme Court. Here we are, barely a year after the beginning of his second term, and the leadership of the court has already changed drastically.

The abortion debate has been publicly dormant for the past several years. The age of high-profile abortion bombings died in the early 1990s. The pro-life activists chose to act in a more behind-the-scenes fashion by influencing public policy. Their strategy succeeded. A critical U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1992 began a new age of choice politics: the chipping away of Roe v. Wade.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey upheld the right of women to obtain an abortion legally, but also allowed restrictions on that right. This began a wave of informed-consent rules requiring minors to inform their parents, the distribution of anti-choice material in the abortion clinic and a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure was performed.

Abortion is still a controversial issue in the United States, despite being legal for over 30 years. The biggest debate is whether or not life begins at conception. There is a range of individuals on both sides, from conservative fundamentalist Christians to students in high school to national politicians.

The groups on the pro-life side are loudly cheering about the victory in South Dakota. The only exception to the law is if the life of the woman is in danger. It also places limits on the availability of emergency contraception. Legislation to criminalize abortion is currently pending in 11 other states.

Sure, South Dakota is far away, and seemingly different from the liberal haven that is Portland. However, the lawmakers’ intention in South Dakota is to bring the case to the U.S. Supreme Court to completely overturn Roe v. Wade. They know that the law will most likely be ruled constitutional or voted against in a legislative vote. On the other hand, the leadership in the U.S. Supreme Court is swaying to the side against choice. This means that the decision in South Dakota directly affects all Americans.

I am a staunch believer in the choice movement. I have seen pictures of women obtaining back-alley abortions when it was illegal. I have heard stories of women dying from these seriously unsafe procedures. Why do we want to put women in that situation again? The activists in the pro-life movement should realize that saving the life of an unborn fetus does not outweigh the life of a woman.

There are also no allowances in South Dakota for a woman to seek an abortion in cases of incest or rape. Arguments against the exception argue that a child produced as a result of rape or incest is not any less of a person. Unfortunately, the lives of the rape and incest victims are seriously threatened and damaged already.

The South Dakota legislation demonstrates that the women’s movement is going backwards. The National Organization for Women was one of the heaviest hitters in the fight to protect a woman’s right to choose. The death of Betty Friedan earlier this year demonstrated that a generational change was needed in feminist politics. So far, no one has come to the plate, and leadership is desperately needed in the fight to keep Roe v. Wade.

I fear for the rights of American women. This is the first step in what could be an extremely conservative revolution. During his confirmation as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Samuel Alito refused to recognize that Roe v. Wade was settled law. The battle has begun, and it’s not going to end pretty.