Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, state legislatures across the country have worked to narrow the scope of the ruling. The South Dakota state legislature, however, spent the last year seeking not to revise the landmark case, but to overturn it.
The legislative battle began last March when South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Mike Rounds signed an almost complete ban on abortion. Exceptions to the ban were granted only if two doctors determined the mother’s life to be in danger.
Notably, the law did not allow abortion in the case of rape or incest. Rounds admitted when signing the bill that the ban would not take effect for some time because of expected legal challenges. South Dakota politicians were quick to legislate into the private areas of their constituent’s lives in exchange for the chance to appear before the Supreme Court.
Before the law could take effect in July of 2006, abortion advocates collected enough signatures to place the issue on the November ballot. The ban was defeated by a 56- to 44-percent margin, leading many to believe the issue was settled.
Earlier this year, however, lawmakers reintroduced the ban with what they called be several improvements. Exit polling showed that many who rebuked the ban in November did so because they considered it overly harsh not to grant exceptions to victims of rape and incest. The reintroduced bill deals with this concern, but in a clinical manner that is sickening in its lack of respect for the trauma induced by rape and incest.
If passed, the new law would grant exceptions for victims of rape, but only if rape victims file a police report within 50 days of being attacked and later turn over the aborted fetus for DNA testing. For incest, the rules are even more stringent – victims must name their attackers on the police report and again provide the aborted fetus’s DNA to support the claim. Forcing victims to file a police report not only thrusts them into a legal battle before procuring an abortion, but it also creates an atmosphere of distrust. The DNA clause only adds to this.
The South Dakota legislature is so concerned with preventing false claims of rape and incest that women must prove their claim scientifically. Planned Parenthood estimates that only 39 percent of all rapes are reported to police, and while it is certainly important to improve that number, requiring a police report in order to have an abortion is not the way.
Women often do not feel safe reporting rapes to police. Statistics support this fear. If a woman reports a rape, according to Planned Parenthood, there is only a 16.3-percent chance her assailant will spend even a day in jail. Coupled with the fact that 66 percent of women reported knowing their attacker, it is clear why filing a police report remains difficult for some women. Victims of rape should be encouraged to cooperate with the police, but until the system changes to provide more protection and assurance, requiring police reports to terminate a pregnancy that is the result of rape is an undue burden.
The law is even more insensitive in cases of incest. If victims must name their abuser and then turn over DNA evidence to support their claim, many abused girls will choose to suffer in silence. Incest is an emotionally complicated cycle of abuse that tears families apart. As with rape, it is important that the percentage of reported cases of incest increases and that the perpetrators are brought to justice, but lawmakers should not force women to bring a pregnancy to term because they are not yet ready to reveal their abuser.
South Dakota lawmakers are clearly concerned with the life of the unborn, but they seem less concerned with the quality of life of the living. While filing a police report concerning an incident of rape and incest may seem like an easy formality, for many victims it is an insurmountable challenge. Victims of sexual abuse deserve respect and dignity when making the difficult decision to abort a pregnancy. South Dakota’s proposed abortion ban give them neither.
Amanda Burns is a LSA senior and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.