The South Dakota Thing

I’ve been thinking about this whole terrifying fucked-up South Dakota anti-abortion law, which completely outlaws abortion in the state, without even the usual exceptions for rape or incest. And I’ve been thinking about the pro-choice response to it… much of which has been to focus on the horror of rape, and why rape survivors should be allowed to get abortions.

I may get drummed out of the club for saying this. So I want to say first: I am absolutely 100% pro-choice, and 100% against this God-awful law.

But I’ve always thought that the “rape/incest” exception idea is bullshit. If you believe that a six-week-old embryo is a human being, what possible difference could it make how that human being was conceived? If you’re deciding whether it should be legal to terminate its life, why would that question be relevant? After all, you wouldn’t say it was okay to kill a two-year-old child (or a twenty-year-old adult) because he/she was conceived by rape or incest. If it’s a person, it’s a person.

The “rape/incest” exception that most anti-abortion activists make has always struck me as unimpeachable proof that anti-abortionists are actually not concerned about “life.” They’re concerned about sex. They think women who have sex outside marriage should be “punished” by having to have babies. (What a great life for that baby, huh?) That’s the only reason for a rape/incest exception — that rape/incest survivors didn’t have sex on purpose, and therefore shouldn’t be punished for it. (Other unimpeachable proof of this includes the fact that most anti-abortionists are also against easily accessible birth control and sex education.)

Anyway. My point is this: I actually think that refusing to make an exception for rape/incest is a more morally consistent position on abortion. As enormously as I disagree with it, if people really believe a
fertilized embryo is a human being with full civil rights, there’s no reason they should make a distinction between embryos conceived by women who wanted sex and women who didn’t.

The best and most consistent piece of anti-abortion writing I ever read (not a wide field, to be sure) was from a priest/minister (I forget which), who believed abortion was immoral… but also believed it should be legal. He said that if people wanted to stop abortion, they should be fighting to make birth control cheap and easily accessible to anyone who wanted it, including teenagers; to get good, realistic sex education in the schools; to make day care cheap and widely available; to improve funding for public schools; to make family leave a legal requirement; to make national health care a reality; etc. etc. etc. In other words, his position was that the best way to stop abortion was to make it unnecessary — to make sure that nobody got pregnant who didn’t want to, and to make sure that anybody who wanted a child could have one without it ruining their life.

And I don’t entirely disagree with him. I absolutely don’t agree that abortion is immoral — but I do think it’s usually sad. And I sure agree with his vision for a world in which it didn’t have to happen very often.

I actually feel some understanding for the more thoughtful, rational anti-abortion people (again, not a wide field). I sometimes think the pro-choice movement gives short shrift to the real ethical question at the heart of the abortion debate: namely, at what point does a fertilized embryo become a human being? I don’t actually think that’s an easy question to answer. In fact, the foundation of my pro-choice position is that it’s a damn near impossible question to answer — and that it therefore should be up to each woman to answer it for herself. But if I didn’t believe that — if I believed that an embryo was a human being — I’d be appalled by abortion too, and trying like hell to stop it.

But once again, for all their “baby-killing” rhetoric, I don’t think that’s really the issue for most anti-abortionists. I think the issue is that they hate the idea of women having sex without consequences.

The South Dakota Thing
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6 thoughts on “The South Dakota Thing

  1. 1

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head to say this law is more about trying to legislate sexual behavior. I heard a piece about the South Dakota abortion law on NPR, and one of the legislators behind the law was claiming that it was possible for a woman to get an abortion after being raped under this law. When asked to provide a scenario by which this might happen, he suggested that if a young, Christian virgin were brutally raped, and he rapsodized about the extent and vicious nature of the rape for a while, she would be so distraght that her life would thus be in danger. I suppose he was implying she’d be likely to commit suicide, but he didn’t come right out and say this. The whole conversation was strange, but the rest of the way home I kept thinking, would the abortion be justified if she wasn’t Christian? if she wasn’t devout? if she wasn’t a virgin?

  2. 2fs

    Exactly. I’ve always thought the rape/incest exception was a curious inconsistency – one that revealed what most anti-choicers’ real agenda was: primarily anti-sex and anti-woman. (Here via the Tier 3000 folks, btw…)

  3. 3

    Oh yes. If you want further proof of this sort of thinking, all you have to do is look at the ridiculous controversy surrounding the vaccine that essentially elimates the potential for developing cervical cancer, which is mostly the result of a sexually transmitted virus. The hitch is, for the vaccination to be useful, it has to be given to girls before they become sexually active. Sigh. You can imagine the hysterical “it encourages promiscuity” arguments against widespread vaccination of 12-13 year old girls.

  4. 4

    Excellent post. As a South Dakota atheist (yep, there’s one out here) I agree with your position on this.
    One of the sad things for me has been several vans in town that actually had the image of an aborted child (late term, of course) plastered on the side of them and driving around town all day long. The religious right just loves to elicit emotional responses in order to override any semblance of logical thought.
    Talk about being a minority. Things like this are why I don’t advertise my atheism in any way. People would probably remember Deu 13:6-10 in the Christian bible and stone me to death.
    Draven the Respectful Atheist

  5. 5

    But if I didn’t believe that — if I believed that an embryo was a human being — I’d be appalled by abortion too, and trying like hell to stop it.
    I discovered your blog just today and I’ve read so much of it (screw work, eh?) and I have enormous respect for everything you’ve written, and I even agree with 99% of what I’ve read of you so far. The 1% is the idea that if a fetus is a human being, abortion would be immoral.
    I’ll agree with that the day you start saying that the law should *compel* people to donate body parts (spare kidney, bone marrow, blood, liver etc) to their children, if said children happen to need them. And since all these children are “human”, they have the right to their biological parents’ body parts even if they’re adopted or legally adults or estranged from their parents or serial killers.
    I’m pregnant right now. This fetus is MESSING with me and my body, let me assure you. I puke three times a day at least, I have insane amounts of gas which leads to farts and burps at inappropriate times, I already feel the beginnings of hemhorroids, and there’s a very good chance I’ll get gestational diabetes – which will make me predisposed to “real” diabetes later in life. I’m only 10 weeks along – I haven’t even begun to experience other permanent effects of pregnancy and childbirth like varicose veins, stretch marks on my belly, dark spots on my skin (even face), incontinence, loss of vaginal elasticity, hair loss, scars from possible C-section, vaginal tears, etc etc etc…
    Does a human being’s “right to life” trump my freedom to choose not to undergo all this? Because no amount of sentimentality can argue with the facts: this “human being” is essentially a parasite in my body. If I do not artificially increase my calcium intake during pregnancy, for example, this fetus will leech calcium from my bones and teeth and cause early osteoporosis in me. This fetus is using my uterus, my blood, my endocrine system – my whole BODY – to help itself get to a stage where it can exist by itself. For this particular fetus residing right now inside me, I’m happy to let it use me. But I have the right to say no.
    Whether or not it’s a human being, I am the final arbitrer of whether or not it can use my body.

  6. 6

    Thank you for your take on anti-abortionist opinions are twistedly shaped because of their need to supress woman. Thnks for being brave enuff to share.
    I’ve always been pro-choice. My initial introduction to taking a “side” on the issue was duriong a debate part of 9th grade English class. Out of the hat, I was to be…”pro-abortion” as it was called. Until that class, and assignment, I didn’t know what an abortion was.
    As I studied and readided to make my case, I guess that position cemented in m,y consiousness.
    Here’s an honest one that’ll get ya. Another reason I continued to hang on to those pro-choice views,was if I was to knock up a woman, I wouldn’t have to be a tied up daddy. Sad, huh? I’m sorry people. THe good news is I know now bettr.
    I’ve become less militant in my pro choice views for 2 reasons. First being w technology teaching us things we never knew before, my idea of human being as fetus, has definitely moved to earlier in pregnancy. And really now, if we can detect the sex of an unborn, a human being label shouldn’t be a distant thought!
    Second, in talks w my younger brother, as he was distraught over a pregnant on/off GF, whom they already had an unplanned child, causing these live apart parents much financial and emotional toll. Plus, they really didn’t want to have another child, brother even agreed to “double bag” it when they had sex.
    As older brother, I told him that he should really be talking to her about it, that it’s her (pro)choice. But as he presented his thoughts and feelings that I could understand if his input would be to consider an abortion.
    Mother 2 be decided to have the child (that is a pro-choice”. And know I see this lovely soul of a daughter, I am…still pro-choice

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