The Death of HB 1191




T

o
the surprise of just about everyone, HB 1191, a South Dakota bill
challenging the Supreme Court ruling in


Roe
v. Wade

, died in mid-March. Drafted by the Thomas More Law Center—an
Ann Arbor “public interest” legal firm that serves as
a conservative Christian antidote to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood
Federation, and National Education Association—anti-abortionists
believed the bill would force the Court to undo its 1973 ruling. 


Although
the More Center and its supporters are still smarting from their
unexpected defeat, they vow that next year, they will reintroduce
the bill and others like it into statehouses across the country. 


The
More Center gets the lion’s share of its funding from Domino’s
pizza founder and Catholic traditionalist, Tom Monaghan, who

Forbes
Magazine

estimates is worth $485 billion. Monaghan’s deep
pockets and political fervor mean that the Center will likely spare
no expense in pursuing its goal. Furthermore, it can be counted
on to push for the most ideologically rigid anti-abortion bill that
can pass legal muster. 


Indeed,
HB 1191 made the agenda clear. It declares that human life begins
“when the ovum is fertilized by male sperm.” It also determines
that states have a “compelling and paramount interest in the
preservation and protection of all human life,” and guarantees
due process of law to both “born and unborn human beings.”
Thomas More Center lawyers call it “model legislation.” 


The
battle in South Dakota began in January and ended March 15, when
lawmakers defeated HB 1191 by one vote. Until the final moment,
legislation-watchers believed the bill would be enacted. They based
this hunch on hearings, orchestrated by the antis, which relied
on an outpouring of emotion intended to sway elected officials.
Over the course of several days, women claiming to have been injured
by abortion testified about the surgery’s allegedly deleterious
impact. One after another, they laid suicide, severe depression,
post- traumatic stress disorder, infertility, and other maladies
on the doorstep of the state’s two abortion providers. Their
rallying cry was loud and unambiguous: abortion hurts those who
have them, as well as those near and dear to them. Concerned Women
for America (CWA) also got in on the action, exhibiting sonogram
footage of fetal life. Their efforts were complimented by a host
of conservative activists, attorneys, and doctors. Bigwigs, including
Notre Dame Professor Gerard V. Bradley, chair of the Federalist
Society’s Religious Liberties Practice Group, and Dr. David
Fuuchi Mark, a psychiatrist whose testimony lends cred- ibility
to claims of Post Abortion Syndrome, used their voices to champion
the cause. 


Thelma
Underberg, executive director of the state’s NARAL chapter,
was shocked by the callousness of the rhetoric and the frenzy that
accompanied the bill’s introduction. “One woman who got
up to speak said that she understood that rape was traumatic, but
that she could not help but think it would be therapeutic for the
woman to give birth to new life,” she reports. After debating
this issue, Underberg says that lawmakers voted against including
a rape or incest exception. They also voted down a provision to
allow abortion in cases of fetal deformity. Legislators did, however,
toss a sop at ambivalent, would-be allies, and agreed to allow abortion
in cases of life or health endan- germent. 


But
even this concession was not easily won. “Rome only fell after
it began allowing abortions and infanticide,” Rep. Bill Von
Gerpen, a Tyndall Republican, thundered before the first vote on
the bill. His colleagues—all 105 of whom are up for reelection
in November—applauded him and practically tripped over one
another to “protect the unborn.” 


So
why did the bill falter? According to NARAL’s Underberg, the
floundering began during a technically mandated second vote, which
took place several weeks after HB 1191 was initially approved. “There
was a massive lobbying effort by pro-choice people after the first
vote,” she says. “I think legislators who voted anti-choice
the first time felt the heat and realized that their position was
not as popular as they thought it was.” 


In
addition, some lawmakers found themselves questioning the likelihood
of winning the legal battle that would follow bill passage. According
to Brian Burch, director of development and communications at the
Thomas More Center, “The sentiment to overturn

Roe

was
there. The debate over HB 1191 was not around whether abortion should
be legal. Legislators in South Dakota agree that we need to end
abortion. The argument was over the most effective way to do this.” 


Burch
blames the bill’s defeat on divisions within the anti-abortion
community. “Some people questioned whether this direct assault
on

Roe

was being waged at the right time,” he says.
“They felt that we need to see changes in the composition of
the Supreme Court before something like this can be tried. They
felt that it would be better to wait a year or two, until there
are new prolife appointees on the Court, and instead fight for incremental
changes, things that have been proven to reduce the number of abortions,
like parental consent and notification laws, mandatory waiting periods,
and counseling about the risks associated with abortion.” 


While
Burch admits that he is disappointed that HB 1191 failed to pass,
he sounds anything but dejected. In fact, he is enthusiastic about
what he believes to be a political inevitability: the overturning
of

Roe

. “There is a lot of new evidence about fetal
life and the harm abortion causes that the Supreme Court will not
be able to ignore,” he says. “The Court will eventually
say that it is proper for states, not the federal government, to
regulate it. Some states will regulate aboriton moderately and others
will regulate it extensively. But the bottom line is that the Court
will agree that individual states have the authority to protect
fetal life.” 


If
Burch is correct, and the Court agrees to rethink the issue, rights
long believed to be sacrosanct will be up for grabs. NARAL, Planned
Parenthood, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
have been warning about this possibility for 30 years. Let’s
hope that people have not become so desensitized by their exhortations
that they ignore the alarms that are loudly sounding.



 





Eleanor J. Bader,
a freelance writer and teacher, is the co-author of



Targets
of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism