Sunday, April 30, 2006

South Dakota and the total awesomeness of Cecelia Fire Thunder

Whoever said one person can’t make an impact in the debate over abortion has obviously never met Cecilia Fire Thunder.
Fire Thunder, president of the Oglala Sioux tribe, has announced her intention to establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on the tribe’s Pine Ridge reservation. Although Pine Ridge is located within the state of South Dakota, it is not subject to South Dakotan law, including the state’s recently passed and highly controversial abortion ban. The law’s full title is HB 1215- the “Women’s Health and Human Life Protection Act”. The blanket ban on abortion is clearly intended to challenge Roe v. Wade, without concern for the possible effects on the wellbeing of South Dakotan women. It is a direct challenge to established federal legal precedent, and, sadly, this challenge may succeed.
It is well-known that provisions for rape and incest are absent from this ban. However, I was astonished to learn that an attempt to add provisions for rape and incest into the bill was shot down with a vote of 21-14. This is certainly consistent with the position that all life is sacred, but I could not call it anything less than cruelty. Rape and incest are crimes, yet the forced bearing of a child brings lifelong economic and social discrimination against the mother, the mother’s family, and the child. The scale of the effect of this forced childbirth is much greater than the impact of the emprisonment of the criminal. The maximum sentence for rape is life, yet the consequence of this rape, forced upon the victim, affects many more lives than that of one deviant.
In reading the text of South Dakota HB 1215, I noted a particularly apt clause-

“Section 11. If any court of law finds any provision of this Act to be unconstitutional, the other provisions of this Act are severable. If any court of law finds the provisions of this Act to be entirely or substantially unconstitutional, the provisions of § § 34-23A-2, 34-23A-3, 34-23A- 4, and 34-23A-5, as of June 30, 2006, are immediately reeffective.”

Apparently, the legislators fully expect this bill to be challenged, and these challenges are already rising. Some have called for illegal abortion networks to be established. Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit against the bill. The real question is, if the challenge makes it to the Supreme Court, which way will the justices decide? If they decide it is unconstitutional, a heavy blow will be dealt to the anti-abortion movement. However, if they uphold the law, the question of abortion will be thrown back to the states, where it is likely to be banned in states ranging from Mississippi to Michigan.
It is equally disturbing that South Dakota has bills active in their legislature that would outlaw comprehensive sexual education and allow for the so-called “conscience clause”, protecting the ability of a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription for ethical or religious reasons- in other words, a way to deny birth control medications, including the “Pill” (a combination of oestrogen and progestrogen). Although the main purpose of the “Pill” is to prevent pregnancy, it is also used to treat irregular and heavy menstrual cycles, as well as to help regulate menstrual migraines. This total illogic is a threat to women’s health beyond birth control, and is nothing short of an attack on women’s availability to even slightly controversial healthcare.
Outrage from pro-choice and cheers from anti-abortion groups have clogged the Internet since the day the bill was proposed, but Fire Thunder’s proposal is unique amongst the recent furor in that it has substance. She is collecting donations from across the country to establish a comprehensive family clinic on tribal land. By taking serious action, she has set a precedent for courageous opposition to the movement against reproductive health in America, and made a real motion to improve health within the Pine Ridge reservation, as well as within the greater South Dakota area.
It is important to remember that the fight over abortion in South Dakota has the ability to affect reproductive health across the nation. If South Dakota’s policies spread, we could find an epidemic of denied prescriptions, failed sex education, unwanted children, and deaths due to illegal, unsafe abortions. This is a threat to America’s health, physical, psychological, and social, and I can only find comfort in the actions of the brave men and women speaking out against this irrational and unreasonable law.