DON’T LET YOUR DAUGHTERS GROW UP TO BE SOUTH DAKOTANS
One reason why abortion is such an intensely polarizing issue is that the people on both sides refuse to acknowledge the truth and validity of the opposing arguments. Each camp demonizes the other, when in fact most people involved in the debate, like most people everywhere, are decent folks who believe they are doing the right thing.
The anti-abortion contingent makes a single, powerful statement. The fetus/embryo/zygote (depending on the stage of development), by virtue of being a HUMAN fetus/embryo/zygote, has the same right to protection (moral and legal) as a fully formed individual. It matters. To discard it is not inconsequential.
On the pro-choice side, the discussion is startlingly similar. A girl/woman’s life matters. By virtue of being human, and, for the purposes of this essay, an American, she is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Gone are the days when women were the possessions of their husbands without the rights of citizenship. A woman cannot be held hostage, forced into servitude, or denied opportunities. To deny a woman freedom is not inconsequential. It matters.
When an unwanted pregnancy occurs, there is a unique and tragic conundrum. The needs of the fetus (I’ll use that for short) directly conflict with the needs of the woman. All abortion law attempts to answer the question: whose needs take precedence?
The state of South Dakota, in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, has passed a law banning all abortions at any stage, with one single exception: abortion is allowed to save the life of the mother.
That lone exception speaks volumes. When the chips are down, all the way down, and either the fetus is going to die or the woman is going to die, the woman takes precedence.
Once you’ve concluded that, it all becomes a balancing act. What circumstances justify exercising the woman’s precedence?
If the law in South Dakota takes effect, a 12-year-old girl raped by her own father would be forced to carry the pregnancy. A woman whose fetus has been diagnosed with anencephaly (literally “no brain”) would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, only to watch the baby die immediately after birth. Indeed, it takes very little imagination to come up with all sorts of horrifying examples in which demanding that a woman continue a pregnancy constitutes the most unfeeling cruelty.
And what of the more commonplace situation, in which a woman is simply unprepared to give over her body and her life to continue an unwanted pregnancy?
A note on reality for those who have not had this experience: even in the best of worlds, pregnancy is really, really difficult. It is wonderful and miraculous, yes, but it can also be miserably painful, often incapacitating (especially in the first and third trimesters), and sometimes does permanent damage to the mother’s body. And all that refers to normal, healthy pregnancies.
There is a gender issue that must be discussed. Women are raised from infancy onward with the knowledge that they will be expected to put the needs of others ahead of their own. The vast majority of the time, it is women who put their careers on hold to nurture their children. It is women who stay home when their kids are sick. It is women who spend their evenings sewing costumes for school plays. It is women who eventually care for aging parents. Some religious groups explicitly require women to be subservient to their husbands.
It seems natural, then, to demand that a woman set aside her own needs and tend to the needs of the fetus, even if she does not wish to have a baby, even if carrying a pregnancy will cause her severe physical, psychological, or economic harm. That’s what women do.
But is that reasonable? There’s that pesky business of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Can a state deny to women the freedom that men take for granted all their lives? Don’t brush the question aside. Women matter. It is not inconsequential.
Somewhere, there is a reasonable balance between the needs and rights of a female citizen of the United States, and the needs of a fetus/embryo/zygote. South Dakota missed it by a long, long way.