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South Dakota vs. Women

South Dakota’s restrictive abortion ban prohibits nearly all abortions, even in cases of incest, rape, and endangerment of the mother’s life.

by Tamara Watkins

South Dakota’s Republican governor Mike Rounds signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban into law on March 6. The law prohibits nearly all abortions, even in the generally acceptable cases of incest, rape, and endangerment of the mother’s life.

South Dakota’s new law means that a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore will be expected to bring her fetus to term, increasing the likelihood she will not complete her high school education and limiting her and her child’s economic future. A woman who discovers her fetus suffers from a debilitating handicap must give birth to a child who will live in pain. A rape victim must allow fetus conceived during a vicious assault to continue to grow in her wombs. A woman must bring a pregnancy to term, knowing that she might die as a result.

The law, and the pro-life movement in general, ignores the wider social and political implications of abortion. Pro-lifers argue that fetuses are human life (a point I fully agree with); but they rarely mention that unwanted children can cripple women’s economic potential and limit their educational opportunities. We rarely hear about fatherhood, and the need for men to take financial and social responsibility for children, an action, traditional as it may be, that would ease the economic and social burden on mothers.

I find it funny, in a completely depressing way, that many pro-life politicians support restricted access to welfare and other public support programs, yet they want women to give birth to children that they might not be able to support. They need to put their money where their mouths are—if they want potentially aborted children brought to term, they should be willing to help underprivileged mothers foot the bill. Instead, we’re treated to rhetoric about the value of fetal life that is far too simplistic to offer any real insight or resolution to the abortion debate.

A particularly troubling aspect of the South Dakota law is that it prevents abortion even in cases of maternal life endangerment. This interpretation of the value of fetal life implies that women are mere vessels that house the next generation, only as valuable as their reproductive organs, and implies women who attempt to control their pregnancy’s future are selfish and uncaring. It strips women of their personhood. It’s a dangerous political statement that speaks volumes about the value of women in our culture; lawmakers see women as mere tools to assist with passing on their genes, rather than moral persons who have the right to decide whether they want to bring more moral persons into the world.

This interpretation of fetal life also speaks volumes about the lack of respect politicians have for women. It is difficult to think of any other group in modern America that could have its personhood and rights repeatedly and publicly challenged without deafening public outcry. Feminists of both sexes need to stand up and be heard; we can’t keep allowing politicians to treat women as vacant vessels with a limited right to self-determination.

Tamara Watkins lives, works, and loves the metro-DC area.