February 25, 2006

South Dakota Eroding Individual and Democratic Rights

South Dakota lawmakers are looking to take advantage of the recent conversion of the US Supreme Court's to the right-wing persuasion. In a direct attack on Roe v. Wade, lawmakers voted to ban all reasons for abortion except in the case the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. While this is alarming in itself, there are other measures that were taken to circumvent democracy in the process as well. So what does essentially banning all reasons mean? Well, women who get pregnant and do not wish to be (accidental pregnancies) cannot have an abortion, obviously. However, neither can women who's pregnancies are a risk to their health - not life - are banned from making a choice right for them. Women who become pregnant due to rape or through incestual abuse are also going to be forced to go to term. How anyone can justify that a woman who becomes pregnant through rape (a criminal and unwanted act and resulting complication) is beyond my comprehension. Possibly the argument is that the new, unborn life shouldn't be 'punished' through no fault of their own. Though the same argument can apply to the mother. Yet, even giving the benefit of the doubt to that argument, that same argument cannot apply to incest. While not guaranteed, there is high degree of risk that a child born out of incest can inherit or develop genetic defects. These can vary from minor issues to extremely serious and debilitating complications, never mind the psychological problems that many children of incest suffer. If the issue with pregnancies due to rape is not to punish the child, it is obvious that isn't the concern with pregnancies due to incest. It would be interesting to hear the reasoning for lawfully impeding on the life and well-being of two people (mother and child) because of a criminal act that neither asked to be a part of. South Dakota lawmakers didn't stop there. In the process of eroding the rights of women, they also decided to erode the democratic rights of all South Dakotans. In an attempt to prevent public discourse on the issue lawmakers banned the issue from being subject to a referendum and prevented the banning of state financing in the event of a court challenge. The attack on democratic rights is much more concerning than the other, given that there are legal methods available to circumvent the ban (state jumping perhaps). Firstly, for some people it will be argued that the state legislators had the mandate to ban abortions by being elected. That knowingly electing conservative politicians is tantamount to providing public permission. However, it isn't the state that ultimately granted women the right to choose. The right was guaranteed at the federal level. Having the state take away an individual right that they did not grant in the first place means the state has impeded on another's jurisdiction and ultimately it shouldn't have the right to make such a decision. Furthermore, if the conservative lawmakers were so confident that they were doing the will of their constituents then they wouldn't have taken the step of eroding democracy. It is a dangerous precedent for politicians to pass a controversial law and then take steps in a blatant attempt to circumvent democracy, especially in the case of banning a referendum. Since the right to choose was ultimately granted at the federal level, then a referendum should have been had in the first place. It should only be the citizens of the state that should be specifically allowed to opt out of rights granted to the entire country. To ban the greatest form of public consultation and then to guarantee the whole of the state treasury to defend the undemocratic decision process on an issue that essentially requires public input reeks more of authoritarianism rather than democracy. Essentially this is gross abuse of the political system that these legislators have been entrusted with by lawfully forcing their opinion on their constituents and then lawfully setting up methods of shutting down any public objection. While I reserve providing my opinion on the subject of abortions, (and no, don't necessarily take that as one way or the other) I am very much in favour of the right to choose and meaningful democratic protest. However, both of these have been tossed out the door. It may be that an overwhelming number of South Dakotans favour the banning of abortion and that is their prerogative. However, even they cannot make that decision for themselves and just electing conservative politicians isn't enough.


Derek W said...

Interesting argument - particularly in your second paragraph. As I understand it (correct me if i'm wrong, please), you're saying that the idea that a child shouldn't be punished (aborted) because of the unlawful act of rape may possibly hold water for some people, but the same argument cannot hold water when it comes to incest. In the case of the unlawful act of incest, to abort a child would not be "punishing" that child because of the high chance that a child born out of an incestuous relationship will inherit genetic defects.

The only difference between the first argument (re:rape) and the second (re:incest) is that in the second, the child has a higher chance of having genetic defects.

In the mind of the person who argues against abortions in the case of rape, this argument for abortions in the case of incest the assumes that a child will be better off dead than living with a genetic defect.

As someone who lives with and is related to people with developmental disabilities, I am insulted by this argument. Our humanity is not determined by our defects or "deficiencies," but by our relationships with one another and the very fact of our creation (for more on this, check out Jean Vanier's 1998 Massey lectures: Becoming Human). People with disabilities, whether they result from terrible crimes like incest or not, have tremendous and inestimable contributions to make to Canadian society.

I hope I have helped you understand how people who argue against abortions in the case of rape may also argue against abortions in the case of incest.

Kyle said...

Close... Just to clarify, I wasn't giving my personal opinion on abortion in any way.

What I was trying to say is that the argument aginst allowing abortions, even due to rape, is generally that we shouldn't 'punish' the child. However, it seems to be ultimately okay to force children of incest to live with so-called punishment.

It wasn't about saying that children with potential disabilities are better off dead. It was about attacking an arguement based on punishment. In the few instances where I've encountered the view on rape, the punishment arguement seems to be prominent. I just don't think it necessarily holds any weight given the fact that in the same breath it can be argued to allow a child to be ultimately 'punished' with a disability. In no way do I discount the potential of children with disabilities. I've worked with too many disabled children to see how well they can flourish in life and society.

This was supposed to be nothing more than an argument against an argument, not an argument against reality or children with disadvantages. I personally don't like the 'punishment' argument.

I hope this clarifies things.

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