Abortion rises again as election issue
South Dakota, Colorado, and California weigh measures.
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Many voters at the time said that they felt the law as written was too unforgiving: Abortion would be forbidden in cases of rape, incest, or the mother’s health. Polling data after the vote caused the law’s advocates to bring it back, this time with exceptions for those cases.Skip to next paragraph
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The exceptions made the major antiabortion group in the state withdraw its support, but backers hope that the referendum will be more palatable to voters teetering in the middle. “We’ve talked to a lot of people who said, ‘I voted no,’ and they said, ‘You have rape and incest exceptions. This time I can vote for it,” says Leslie Unruh, campaign manager for VoteYesForLife.com.
Whereas last time opponents of the measure focused almost exclusively on the bill’s lack of exceptions, this time they’ve appealed to the strong libertarian streak in many residents.
“It’s a question of what that means to each individual person. Not everyone who’s pro-life is willing to force their views onto others, and not everyone is willing to put them into government hands.”
Ms. Unruh says her only goal is to change law in South Dakota, but most experts are looking to the inevitable legal challenges. One legal memo from Harold Cassidy (no relation), an antiabortion lawyer in New Jersey, says, “Whatever the make-up of the Supreme Court in 2011, it may well be the best Court we will have for the next ten to fifteen years [to overturn Roe], and even beyond.”
Still, antiabortion groups have been far from uniform in their support of either South Dakota’s or Colorado’s measure, often questioning the timing and legal wisdom of bringing such a direct challenge. Colorado’s measure, in particular, has earned opposition from several Catholic bishops, National Right to Life, and the state’s Democratic, antiabortion governor.
Critics of the proposed amendment have charged that the measure – which would redefine a “person” as any fertilized egg – could have far-reaching and still unknown consequences.
“At a minimum, it would ban all abortions,” including in situations of rape or incest or to save the mother’s life, says Eve Gartner, deputy director of public policy litigation at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. It could also have implications, she says, for the healthcare of pregnant women, in vitro fertilization, contraception, and even tax laws.
“I’m speechless even thinking about the possible permutations this could take if it were passed,” she says. “This would be entering into uncharted territory.”
Kristi Burton, the amendment’s sponsor, counters that the law would only change the definition in three sections of the constitution and that such fears are unwarranted. “This just lays a common-sense foundation” for what constitutes a person, she says.