US Politics

South Dakota

Will America ever be able to have a grown up discourse about abortion? It’s a serious and difficult issue involving a lot of complicated aspects, it is, just as the South Dakota representative interviewed by’s Nancy Gibbs states, a question of “balancing rights”. Quite right – but then again, why did he and his fellow lawmakers come up with a law that seems utterly inadequate to do just that, but very appropriate to make it to the newly staffed supreme court as quickly as possible…

I particularly like the part where the representative explains that an abortion is not an abortion as long as the women does not/cannot positively know she’s pregnant… Print Page: Nation — When Is an Abortion Not an Abortion?

I talked to Representative Roger Hunt, the main sponsor of HB 1215, about why the bill was written as it was. Why, for instance, did they reject the standard exception to protect the health of the mother? Because, he says, that phrase is far too stretchy. ‘If we were talking of pure, serious health concerns,’ that would be one thing, Hunt said. But ‘health’ can mean economic health, mental health. ‘It becomes an open barn door for anyone who wants an abortion. We might as well not have the legislation at all’.

But what about cases of rape and incest, where there is overwhelming public support for allowing abortion as an option? Here the lawmakers admit that they carved out a little gray area. Hunt notes that the bill forbids doctors from prescribing any drug or doing any procedure on a pregnant woman ‘with the specific intent’ of ending a pregnancy. It also protects the right of women to use ‘a contraceptive measure, drug or chemical, if it is administered prior to the time when a pregnancy could be determined through conventional medical testing…’

In other words, a woman presenting herself to an emergency room immediately after a rape, Hunt says, would be able to use emergency contraception; the trick is that she has to do within the first few days after the assault, before any test can determine whether she was pregnant in the first place. The lawmakers concluded that it’s OK for a rape victim to have an abortion, so long as she doesn’t know for certain that she’s doing it.

So why not have an exemption for all rape victims, including the ones who are too shattered to report an assault right away? Hunt calls it “a fine line that we’re walking, but some of this is just to show that we’re being fair and reasonable. In cases where we cannot determine if there’s an unborn child or not, we’re trying to be sympathetic to a woman who alleges she’s been raped.’ But the sympathy expires after about a week. ‘Very honestly,’ Hunt adds, ‘We don’t want to have a lot of abortion clinics questioning a woman and having the woman say ‘well, I was raped four months ago, I need an abortion.’ We’re trying to be sensitive to women who are legitimate rape victims—and not give abortion clinics a chance to commit fraud on system.’

‘It’s so hypocritical it just blows my mind,’ Planned Parenthood’s Looby counters. ‘They understand that this is a problem for the public, so they had to come up with a way to get around that and this is their attempt to do so.’ The majority of rape victims, she notes, are victims of date rape, and the majority of incest victims are quite young. ‘They don’t present themselves at a hospital or doctor’s office to ask for contraceptive measures to prevent pregnancy,’ she says. ‘So I think it’s very disingenuous of him to suggest this is an exception for rape and incest. It’s not.’