The new South Dakota abortion rights law is an impressive piece of Return-To-The-Dark-Ages legislation – so much so that even some anti-choicers feel the law might make the general public feel they’re a bunch of woman-hating loonies. With the mid-terms approaching, it’s tempting to agree – although that might be overly optimistic.
Actually, when I say “return to the Dark Ages”, what I really mean is “stay in the Dark Ages”: South Dakotan women have effectively no abortion choice at the moment anyway, beyond heading to a clinic out-of-state (which will still be open to them, at least for now – although obviously the problem is that the poorest, youngest and most vulnerable women who can’t easily get out-of-state are precisely those who need the right to abortion).
Why? Well, the US conception of human rights doesn’t generally back people’s “right to do something” up with any kind of “enabling them to do something”, so the impact of Roe vs Wade on backward backwoods where nobody in power has any interest in providing women with abortion choice has been pretty negligible (see also “I hereby grant all Laotians the right to go on five-star beach holidays in the Caribbean, as long as they arrange and pay for them themselves”). This sucks a great deal for rural American women… although at least it means that if a Supreme Court packed with Bush-ordained theocrats were to overturn Roe vs Wade, it wouldn’t change the real-life situation in the short term. Abortion would still be available in the Bronx, and unavailable in Jerauld County.
At least, for now. A common talking point among the Defeatist Left is that if Roe vs Wade were overturned, then it wouldn’t be such a bad thing: it wouldn’t have a dramatic impact on the actual availability of abortion, and it would return the subject to the states. There are two problems here. One is this would be a woefully inadequate outcome: in the UK, we go to great lengths to ensure that women have access to abortion even when they do live in hick areas and come from scary backgrounds, because we’re aware that it’s a basic human right. What are US liberals saying? “Oh well, the 13th Amendment has been repealed, but this is a good thing – now the slavery debate can continue on a state level, and most rural blacks are so poor anyway that it won’t make much difference.”
The more serious problem is that the premise is utter shit. The idea that conservatives in the US believe in states’ rights any more than liberals is a fiction that conservatives have cleverly woven, as the medicinal marijuana and gay marriage debates testify. A defeat for Roe vs Wade would inevitably be followed by efforts to outlaw abortion at a judicial and Federal level, not by the anti-choicers saying “we think individual states should have the right to choose”. They don’t think *anyone* should have the right to choose, for fuck’s sake…