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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le Dakota lance la guerre de l’avortement

by By Ramine Abadie

United States: South Dakota Declares War on Abortion.

Translated by John O’Neil

Translated Tuesday 14 March 2006, by John O’Neil

South Dakota, one of the most conservative states in the United States, passed a law totally banning abortion except to save the life of the mother. By signing this law, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Republican governor Michael Rounds has advanced a reactionary cause.

Long awaited by ultra-conservatives and fundamentalist Christians, they hope the effort will eventually bring about the end of legalized abortion in the United States - or at least in a number of states freed from the constraints of federal legislation.

Governor Rounds took on a preacher’s tone during the signing of this law. “In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society,” the governor said. “The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them.” It is just too bad for the poor and the cast-offs who are multiplying in American society. However, the governor knows exactly what he is doing.

For Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood (an organization defending women’s rights), "this law is blatantly unconstitutional", but it has not come from some sort of legislative error. She believes the law is a provocation pure and simple, a way to bring the High Court’s decision into question. This law was specifically designed to being the abortion issue back to the Supreme Court. This law has been illegal for more than thirty years since the Court handed down the famous Roe versus Wade decision legalizing a woman’s right to abortion.

Bush’s last two conservative judicial nominations (Samuel Alito and John Roberts) have made America’s highest judicial body with its nine judges clearly a more conservative body than it was just a few years ago when Bush entered office. The Supreme Court had been one of the most important issues in the 2004 presidential election since its decisions help to shape American society. Moreover, its legal and societal impact endures well beyond presidential terms of office: They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The justices are irremovable and sit on the Court for life.

Even if some of the staunchest abortion opponents feel that it is necessary to await the replacement of an additional moderate Supreme Court justice to set the result in stone, South Dakota’s legislation and its debates have already made followers in the conservative mid-west and south. In Mississippi, the legislature has just voted on a similar bill. In Missouri, a similar bill is under legislative debate. Ohio, Georgia and Tennessee have also introduced similar measures.

On the pro-choice side, they have been preparing for battle since the beginning of this legislative debate, "people are showing their commitment to the pro-choice cause and campaign donations are arriving." However, the pro-choice supporters are wavering between two strategies : to attack the law at the federal courts eventually going to the Supreme Court, or to attempt to contain the law, at least at the outset, at the state level.

In South Dakota, the opponents have three months to collect 17,000 signatures to launch a referendum on the law - if need be, it could take place in November. What’s more, the campaign could have the effect of putting the law on hold. This could then allow the sole abortion clinic in Sioux Falls to continue responding to the needs of the many women who go there for help each year.

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