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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

November, 2006

 

Pro-Lifers' Frightening New Tactic:
Make Women Have Babies
By Sarah Blustain and Reva Siegel

The American Prospect
http://www.alternet.org/story/42589/
Next month, South Dakotans will vote on whether to uphold the most radical abortion ban in the nation. Allowing for abortion only "to prevent the death of a pregnant mother," the ban was enacted last March in the belief that the changing membership of the Supreme Court made timely a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. The nation awaits the outcome of this referendum; but in a crucial sense, the damage has already been done.
That's because in enacting the ban South Dakota's governor and legislature gave prominent official endorsement to a claim that's been quietly spreading for decades: that abortion harms women. Asserting that women are subject to coerced and dangerous abortions, the state prohibited the procedure, it said, not only to protect the unborn, but to protect women's choices, women's health, and women's welfare -- new justifications that borrow pro-choice language and infuse it with some very old notions about women's roles. Prohibiting abortion, the movement now emphasizes, protects women's health and choices as mothers.

South Dakota based its ban on a 70-page set of findings contained in the "Report of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion" -- by far the most comprehensive government account of the arguments and evidence for protecting women from abortion. A transparently one-sided publication -- even the anti-abortion chair of the task force voted against it to publicize her objections to its abstinence recommendations and abortion "facts" -- the report includes a variety of findings explicitly endorsed by the legislature as the basis for the ban.

Some are the more familiar, fetal-focused items, emphasizing that a fetus is a "whole separate unique living human being." But more than half of the 10 findings focus on women. The task force found that abortions cause long-term emotional and physical damage to women, everything from suicidal ideation to the possibility of breast cancer. But the task force's report went even further: It argued that the state needed a ban because of the epidemic overriding pressures on women to abort -- from a family member, a husband or boyfriend, or an abortion clinic -- that make extra protection from abortion necessary.

Finally, to make credible its claims about women's health and women's choices, the task force made repeated claims about women's nature. It asserted that women would never freely choose an abortion -- even absent outside pressures -- because doing so would violate "the mother's fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child." The task force took as a statement of biological and psychological fact that a mother's connection to her unborn baby was more authentic than her own statement of desire not to be pregnant. These gender-role convictions are at the heart of the movement's claim that the nation must now combat an epidemic of dangerous and coerced abortions.

Even as major medical authorities challenge the "science" supporting new woman-protective anti-abortion argument, the claim is spreading. "The abortion-hurts-women movement is the most serious issue that we are dealing with in the election in South Dakota," Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, told the Prospect this summer, relating how a busload of "post-abortive women," called the Fleet for Little Feet, was crisscrossing the state testifying about the grievous harm abortion caused them. Pro-choice activists in states from Louisiana to Ohio to Texas said it is now one of the dominant forms of anti-abortion activism that they have to fight.

South Dakota's official endorsement of these arguments gives them more validity than ever and virtually assures that they will be employed to justify abortion restrictions across the nation. This is happening already. Repetition of these arguments in statehouses and courthouses may soften the public perception of the anti-abortion claim -- especially among the moderate middle. Even if South Dakota's ban is voted down for want of a rape or incest exception, the woman-protective argument against abortion will spread, making ever more commonplace the 19th-century forms of reasoning about women that underwrote the law. Pro-choice pundits who say there's nothing to lose in Roe might think again.



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