Spotlight on Ballot Initiatives: South Dakota Measure 11

15 10 2008

As you all know, I was in South Dakota a couple of weeks ago, helping the folks at the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families get the word out about Initiated Measure 11 and encourage South Dakotans to vote no. It was an interesting experience, as it always is when you try to look at or sell a political issue from a different angle.  One thing that strikes me about the Midwest is how unpredictable it can be, politically (probably why it’s swing state territory).  Midwesterners don’t necessarily fall into obvious “liberal” or “conservative” camps.  For example, I know plenty of LGBT, pro-choice folks who also own a gun and love hunting and fishing.  The “no government intrusion” angle really plays up here – and while my instinct is to have a knee jerk negative reaction to that angle, it actually is a positive thing when it comes to social issues, privacy rights, etc.  

In South Dakota, women’s rights don’t play very well, and so as we walked around the town of Yankton canvassing, and did some phone banking the next day, we really emphasized the poor construction of the law and the unnecessary intrusion into family decisions.  When Rita and I looked at our talking points and suggestions from the campaign office, we initially laughed a lot (in the car) about language referring to a decision between the woman, her family, her doctor, and God.  But then, when we approached the first house, complete with a Virgin Mary statue in the front garden, we realized the benefits of the tactic and to my surprise Rita launched straight into talking about how this is a decision a woman should consult her family on and pray about.  Well, when in Rome…

Though my own experience wasn’t so good numbers-wise (I got several undecideds and left literature at a lot of empty houses, but didn’t get a single person voting no), others reported some supporters.  Reading the language of the measure itself, I think it’s fairly easy to see why it’s a bad idea.  South Dakota already has the most restrictive laws on abortion in the country, and whether or not you think that’s a good thing, I can’t see why this measure would make things better for either side.  From a pro-life perspective, there may be a small group of people who believe that abortion is absolutely not allowed in any circumstances, but for those who aren’t quite so rigid, there are clear reasons to vote no.  For example:

  • There is no fetal anomaly exception, and no exception for a fetus that cannot survive outside the womb.  If a woman is carrying a baby that will not survive, she still has to carry it to term.  One ad for the campaign features a South Dakota woman who actually faced this circumstance, and in an even more extreme case – she was carrying twins, and both would die if she did not have an abortion.  She was able to have an abortion and the second baby is a healthy child.  Under this law, she would not have had that option.  This case may sound extreme, but where it occurs it is extremely difficult for the woman involved.  She may be opposed to abortion, she may be very religious, she may not want an abortion – but if she makes the tough choice to go through with it to save a child, she would not be able to carry out that choice under the proposed law.
  • The law includes reporting requirements that could harm a woman who was the victim of rape or incest and made the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy.  Doctors are required to keep the records of the abortion and circumstances in the woman’s permanent medical records.  The Department of Health can request these records, and only the name must be redacted.  In a small town, this isn’t much of a protection.
  • The law is poorly worded and vague.  Rather than allowing doctors to make decisions, courts will have the power to do so in interpreting this law.  The law also contains no health exception, so the doctor must be medically certain that the woman’s life is in danger to perform an abortion if there is no rape or incest.  There are a number of medical conditions that make carrying a baby to term inadvisable, but do not amount to life endangerment.

If you are registered to vote in South Dakota, please vote no on 11.  If you know anyone else who lives in South Dakota, please pass this post on.

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