Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No on No. 6!

LinkThe most poignant statement in today's NYTimes story about the South Dakota abortion ban ("No. 6") that is on the ballot (the legislature already voted for it and it was signed by Gov. Rounds, but opposition to the sweeping ban put it on the ballot) are these two picture, side by side.

The young woman on the left,with her toddler, works, for "Vote Yes for Life," while the older woman on the right works for South Dakota campaign for Healthy Families (donate here). While one might argue that the subtext of this picture is that the old, ageing feminist population cannot compete with today's post-feminist culture, I think it says something differently.

My research on the country doctor, Dr. William Jennings Bryan Henrie, back in August taught me to consider that many pro-choicers are men and women over 70. These individuals grew up in a time before Roe, in a time with the same sort of restrictive bans on abortion that South Dakota wants to enact. These individuals--whether they be Republican, Democrat, or neither--or, whether they be church goers or 'secularists'--know what a sorry state things will be for women if we turn back the clock to the Draconian days of total abortion bans (with the slim exception for the mother's life). Make no mistake about No. 6, this abortion ban will not make exceptions for health, e.g. preeclampsia, "high risk pregnancies," pregnancies resulting from traumatic situations like rape or incest, etc. The only way in which physicians won't be prosecuted for performing an abortion in the service of the woman's health is if it happens by accident (a by-product of treating the woman's underlying health condition. e.g. lupus, cancer, diabetes, ). What the ban says is: if you are suffering serious consequences and risks to your health by carrying this pregnancy to term, the fetuses life is more valuable than your own. Only if it is clear that you will die, can a physician abort.

Before Roe, many states added a health exception to the Comstock laws, which enable some women to get a safe abortion if they met the criteria of a panel of male physicians. The health exception covered "mental health," but in order to get it, you had to subject yourself to the most humiliating of circumstances--proving to a panel of men, who already had a great deal more power than you, that, true to stereotype, women were the weaker sex. Now, while this health exception was more humane than the current South Dakota ban, if this is humane, then what is inhumane?

Before Roe, women who were pregnant feared going to Catholic physicians or hospitals to give birth. Why? Because if it came down to you or the baby, the common wisdom was that the physician, well indoctrinated by the Catholic catechism, would choose the baby. There are lots of stories around of motherless babies and clueless single-parent fathers.

What pro-lifers often forget is that pregnancy is often dangerous to women's health. In fact, human woman have the most ill-suited physiology for giving birth due to our uprightness. So many things can and do go wrong that to ban abortions in such a sweeping and inhumane way is to assuredly put women's lives at risk.

So why do you have this young, energized and committed female pro-life contingent: Ignorance. They simply do not know what they are signing on to; they have no idea what the world was like before Roe and hence, they simply do not have enough lived experience to understand the effect that this abortion ban would have on their lives and the lives of all the other women they care for.

Years ago, a friend of mine who spent many years working for NARAL said, reflecting on the current hostile climate towards women's reproductive freedom: "Maybe people have to lose their rights to remember how vital they are." At the time, I nodded my head. Sure, that made sense. And, from my cushy perch--wherein I know that I could acquire the medical attention I needed were I to find myself in a difficult pregnancy--I thought, "Ok, let 'em lose those rights."

That was before I embarked on my research project of pre-Roe days. I could never go back to that position. To do so is to be willing to give up on the safety of low income women's lives, which morally is unconscionable to me. It should be unconscionable to anyone, for that matter.

The fate of No. 6 is indeed truly important for the future of women's lives. I urge all of you to do something today to help this ban get defeated.