In direct opposition to the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed a bill on Monday that effectively outlaws abortion in all cases except those in which the mother’s life is at risk. Both abortion opponents and defenders have been expecting such a law since President Bush appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, tilting the odds of a reversal of Roe in favor of pro-lifers. Such a direct challenge to the 33-year-old ruling legalizing abortion should surprise no one, and we can only hope that the Supreme Court will uphold a woman’s right to choose when it inevitably rules on the legality of the South Dakota law or others that could soon emerge.
Rounds signed the bill knowing full well that it would take a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade for the law to have any effect. Opponents of abortion are making no attempt to mask the fact that the ban is no more than a test case – a ploy intended to force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe – and they are openly touting it as a political maneuver seeking to capitalize on the now conservative-friendlier Supreme Court.
What’s more, to justify the criminalization of abortion, the text of the bill mentions “the technological advances and medical experience and body of knowledge about abortions produced and made available since the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade” that “prove that life begins at conception.” This supposed scientific backing is dubious at best, as there is by no means a consensus within the scientific community as to the exact moment life begins. Such illusions of scientific objectivity may give the law an official-looking sheen. But without the necessary support, these appeals to science remain nothing more than superficial trappings of pseudo-science intended to lend credibility to a theory ultimately based on faith.
South Dakota is not alone in pushing clearly unconstitutional legislation to provoke a new abortion ruling. Seven other states are currently debating similar bans, and should they pass, any one could eventually challenge Roe.
Those who wave the banner of states’ rights to defend state laws banning abortion fail to acknowledge that such bans strip individuals of personal freedoms. Outlawing abortion, much like outlawing gay marriage, may be overwhelmingly popular in select areas of the country, but it ultimately leads to a less free society. Rounds should know this – he cites the reversal of Plessy v. Ferguson as an example of the Supreme Court’s ability to change its mind for the better. What he doesn’t mention is that those who defended segregation also claimed to be upholding the seemingly sacred values of states’ rights to justify their abhorrent racial policies. In this case, abortion opponents are using the concept of federalism as an excuse to enact a ban that infringes on individual rights. At this point, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope the Supreme Court reasons the same way.