March 13, 2006

Students Respond to S.D. Ban on Abortion

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South Dakota became the first U.S. state to ban abortions in most cases, when Gov. Michael Rounds signed a statewide abortion bill last Monday.

The decision, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest and allows abortions only when a pregnant woman’s life is in danger, has sparked controversy among pro-choice activists. Even some pro-life advocates believe that the ban is too radical. The ban has also elicited a positive response from many pro-life believers who hope that the law will eventually overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

At Cornell – where the Cornell Coalition for Life displays images of aborted fetuses on Ho Plaza and heated lectures and debates between pro-choice and pro-life activists flare up – last week’s news from the Midwest carries a great deal of local relevance.

Some students, like CCFL’s President Sandy Czelusniak ’07, are content with the new law.

“I was very pleased they [South Dakota legislators] were willing to take on such a daunting challenge,” Czelusniak said. However, she was uncertain as to whether the law had the potential to eventually overturn Roe v. Wade.

CCFL Vice President Matthew Wadden ’08 said he does not think the South Dakota decision will quickly cause federal laws to change.

“…Unless one of the liberal judges retires when Bush is in office, there will be a lot of resistance,” he said.

Adriane Bracciale ’07, president of pro-choice Students Acting for Gender Equality, criticized abortion supporters for their complacency with Roe v. Wade.

“We should’ve been expecting this for a long time; the pro-choice community needs to wake up,” she said. “The pro-choice majority in this country has been largely silent.”

“I know [America is] moving in a conservative direction, but this is so drastic,” said Prof. Andrea Parrot, policy analysis and management. She described her initial reaction as “surprise and shock.”

Some pro-choice advocates expressed dismay at what they felt was a “classist” law that encroached upon the constitution and women’s rights to healthcare and personal choice.

“Unfortunately, it has been shown that … rich women will always have the opportunity to have abortions … so these laws against abortion are only hurting working-class women” who could resort to unsafe abortions, said SAGE member Laura Taylor ’07.

“Access to healthcare is a basic human right,” said SAGE former secretary Michelle Dixon ’06. “It’s not that I want to see more abortions happening; I just want people to have access to healthcare everywhere, and I think that’s the main problem.”

87 percent of counties do not have an abortion provider, according to Planned Parenthood. South Dakota has just one.

“One abortion clinic is plenty,” said Megan Sweeney ’07, a member of Cornell Republicans and CCFL. She said she was “elated” about the abortion ban. “Even if by some chance this gets overturned … the fact that even one life can be saved; that’s amazing,” she said.

Czelusniak and Sweeney agree that rape and incest do not justify abortion.

“I generally do not make exceptions … it’s punishing the innocent,” Czelusniak said. Both feel that adoption is a fine option for women who cannot commit to raising children.

Yet many pro-choice students believe that adoption is an unrealistic solution for every case. As for lowering the abortion rate, contraceptives are the answer, said Bracciale and Dixon. Both hope that more extensive education about contraceptives can eventually ratchet down the number of abortions, although the idea has been met with mixed reactions on the pro-life side.

“There should be more emphasis at Cornell on the family planning method,” Sweeney suggested, admitting to uncertainty about whether the push for other methods of birth control was ideal.

Several days after Rounds signed the abortion ban into law, investigative journalist Mary Meehan delivered a talk on campus, entitled, “Why Liberals Should Defend the Unborn.”

Like many in the pro-choice camp, Meehan felt that abortion violated basic human rights. But while pro-choice advocates argue that abortion bans violate women’s right to adequate healthcare, Meehan thought that access to abortion violated unborn children’s right to live.

“There are a lot of alternatives out there – a lot more than there were 30 years ago,” Meehan said.

Before Meehan’s visit, CCFL and SAGE also faced off on a debate about the legality of abortion.

Both events were part of student efforts to bring abortion issues to light. But Sweeney said that campus debates were often “one-sided,” and Bracciale feels that the level of discourse on abortion issues was not sufficient.

Taylor believes that college students have an important role to play in this increasingly significant political matter. She said students have more time and flexibility to mobilize and effect change.

“I think [Roe v. Wade] could get overturned if we don’t see an increase in activism done by pro-choice people,” Taylor said. “You need to mobilize people on the ground to … publicly express their unhappiness with this decision … there’s been a huge decrease in that.”

Both pro-life and pro-choice activists intend to participate in more debates and increase campus awareness about abortion. Wadden also hopes that more men will get involved.

Although the South Dakota law is scheduled to take effect in July, 16,728 signatures from registered voters would postpone the law and lead to a vote on the matter in November, according to a recent New York Times article.

Many people speculate that the new configuration of the Supreme Court provoked South Dakota legislators and could inspire legislators in other states to challenge the legality of abortion.

Archived article by Maya Rao
Sun Staff Writer