Monday, June 19, 2006

A Choice in South Dakota

This week in the magazine, Cynthia Gorney writes about South Dakota House Bill 1215, which was signed into law in March. The law, which calls for a ban on abortion, except in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, was designed specifically to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that declared that abortion must be legal in every state. Opponents of the law recently mounted a petition drive to place it on the ballot this November; South Dakotans would then vote to either accept or reject the legislation. Here, with Ben Greenman, Gorney discusses her article, the law, and the future of the abortion debate in the United States.

BEN GREENMAN: Many states have a tradition of challenging Roe, either incrementally, by passing laws that limit the availability of legal abortions, or through legal challenges. Why South Dakota?

CYNTHIA GORNEY: I don’t have a great answer, but there are a number of factors that occur to me. I have looked at lots of states and their legislation, and I believe that one of the markers for a major right-to-life state is the presence of one or two or three particularly effective legislators or lobbyists pushing the issue. Another factor is a strong Catholic presence, in combination with a strong conservative tradition. And South Dakota is quite homogeneous. The people are either white or Native American, and I was told that there is a strong Catholic tradition among the Lakota Sioux. The combination adds up.

The state has a very small population—seven hundred thousand people, which means that there are fewer eligible voters, and even fewer actual voters—to decide this volatile issue.

Yes, it’s an extremely small sample. That’s part of what makes the situation so interesting. Each side can roll out various kinds of campaigns without spending too much money and figure out what’s working and what’s not. Obviously, the populace of South Dakota is going to respond in a different way than that of New York or California, but people on both sides of the issue can test arguments. [Snip] The New Yorker Magazine

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