Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A pro-choice gambit

We'll veer back into South Dakota politics in a second here, but first, if you're surfing in here from Dead Things on Sticks (thanks for the link!), check out the South Dakota Index to find something good to read.

And participate in the best shows on TV poll by e-mailing me while you're at it!

Anyway, since South Dakota is in the name, and since I'm here for the week, I thought I would return to the South Dakota abortion bill.

From a purely analytical standpoint, I think the pro-choice backers in S.D. did a smart thing when they opted to push for a referendum on the bill, rather than try to sue to get it overturned or suspended.

From the LA Times:

Even in the most conservative corners of this conservative state, both Republicans and Democrats — including a few who say they oppose abortion — are eagerly signing the petition. In two weeks, volunteers have collected a third of the signatures they need to get a November referendum on the ban.

Some voters dismiss the abortion-rights activists as out of touch with South Dakotan values. "People here have a sense of morals and ethics," said Darcy Patterson, 40. "I don't want to change the law."

But others say their legislators went too far when they voted last month to prohibit all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest, unless the mother's life is at stake.


Read more about it here.

Now, this is a HUGE risk for the pro-choice people, but it gets them back to playing offense. They've been playing defense since Roe v. Wade was passed, and that's why the pro-life movement has made such tremendous gains. Those who play offense in abortion politics tend to make the biggest gains because in the world of heightened rhetoric that IS abortion politics, defense is nearly impossible. It's easy to call someone who supports abortion a baby killer and someone who supports an abortion ban someone who supports rapists. Because both sides in this argument have ethically nuanced positions to argue from, defense tends to become hard in a soundbite-driven era. Offense tends to win the day.

If the abortion bill is defeated by the voters by a margin of 55 percent or more, legislators will probably be much more hesitant to approach the issue in the future, and other states will also hesitate. Gov. Mike Rounds, who may have ambitions at a Senate seat, would also be less likely to touch the bill. In short, it would be dead, and S.D. would go back to the virtual abortion ban it has at the moment.

The pro-choice people aren't pressing a referendum on this particular bill; they're pushing a referendum on abortion itself in one of the most conservative states out there. If they win, they could well set back the whole pro-life movement.

The pro-life movement's problem here is that they pushed TOO FAR. People who might be more sympathetic to their cause are going to have real problems with the lack of exceptions in cases of rape and incest. Heck, even the PRESIDENT does. However, the pro-life movement also knows that any exceptions made to any abortion law would be untenable. Once you start to negotiate on principles, those principles can be worn away (as the pro-choice movement has found by making compromises on things like parental notification and late-term abortions, compromises that put the movement in this very position).

The LA Times article linked to above says that South Dakotans are polling at about 57% against the referendum. Now, S.D. is a state where the church gets out the vote, and in many cases, that would be good enough to win this one, but this promises to be a highly emotional battle with lots of ads, which should boost turnout. Make no mistake: The higher the turnout is, the less likely the referendum is to pass, as that means a higher turnout on the liberal Indian reservations and in the moderate I-29 corridor (which runs through the liberal University of South Dakota, the state's largest city of Sioux Falls and the moderate South Dakota State University) and Black Hills area (which tends toward fiscal conservatism and social progressivism). But you're not going to ensure a higher turnout in conservative rural areas, where voting takes so little time (and farmers have so much time to do it in) that turnout tends to always be high. Those in the more populated areas (and on the reservations) tend to turn out for highly emotional races, and with this should be one.

Barring a ridiculously effective pro-life ad campaign and a terrible pro-choice campaign, I would be rather surprised if the final result of the November vote fell too many percentage points away from that 57% number.

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