a bird and a bottle

Was the South Dakota Vote a Yell or a Whisper?
November 12, 2006, 6:00 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, politics

On Tuesday, South Dakota voters enthusiastically overturned the state’s draconian abortion ban, which would have outlawed all abortions. The law had no exceptions for rape or incest, or for the woman’s health. And it wasn’t even close — 55% of voters chose to get rid of the law. For women and progressives around the country, it was an invigorating and encouraging outcome.

Two other states also voted to support reproductive freedom for all women: both Oregon and California voted down parental notification ballot initiatives.

There’s been a lot of talk since Tuesday about what this all means for abortion rights. Is it a full throated endorsement of the right to obtain an abortion without government impediment, or just an indication that the push to overturn Roe went a little too far and was a little too anti-woman? An editorial in today’s L.A. Times believes it’s the former. The editorial claims that the referenda made it clear that Americans favor the status quo on abortion instead of new laws restricting the right. I hope that’s so – but I’m not sure.

The ballot initiatives in Oregon and California were encouraging for those of us who believe that teens require just as much reproductive self determinism as adult women do. Recent pushes to make it more difficult for teens to get access to reproductive healthcare (abortion and emergency contraception jump immediately to mind) are counterproductive – teens are exactly the population that we should be helping prevent pregnancy and motherhood. But I’m not convinced that the ballot initiatives are a recognition and endorsement of this approach as much as a show of frustration that the debate about abortion consumes so much time and attention despite other urgent problems, including the failed war in Iraq and the continued fallout from Katrina.

As for South Dakota, I think we need to recognize what the ballot initiative is and what it is not. It is a sign that voters even in one of the reddest states in the country believe that there should be some situations in which a woman should be able to procure an abortion. This is no doubt a step in the right direction. But it is not – I don’t believe – an endorsement of Roe‘s holding that pre-viability a state cannot interfere at all with a woman’s decision about whether to bear a child.

But I’d love to be wrong about this. In this case, that would be much better than being right.

UPDATE: The Center for American Progress has a take on Tuesday’s elections and what they say about abortion in America that is both optimistic and realistic.

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