Lost among the torrent of news saturating the internet today regarding the birth of Kate and William’s son who shall one day rule a nation slightly larger than Oregon that is not this one, something of great consequence in this country was being grossly underreported. A federal judge blocked the enforcement of North Dakota’s new abortion law, which was one of, if not the most, restrictive in the United States. The law, scheduled to take effect on August 1, would have banned virtually all abortions in that state beginning at 6 weeks as opposed to 28 weeks, which is the measure laid down in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, ruling for the plaintiff in the case of MKB Management v. Burdick (13-cv-71, U.S. District Court, District of North Dakota), stated in his ruling “The state of North Dakota has presented no evidence to justify the passage of this troubling law…The state has extended an invitation to an expensive court battle over a law restricting abortions that is a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women.” As the order blocking enforcement is temporary, Judge Hovland gave the parties involved in the case 30 days to let him know whether to schedule a trial on the merits of suit. Comments from the state government in Bismarck are pending as of this writing.
I suppose what I find to be most startling aspect of these cases is the vigor with which Republican controlled legislatures in states houses across the country pursue the most restrictive laws on reproductive rights possible. It’s amazing to consider the Herculean effort that is put forth in so many states to restrict a woman’s right to choose and I often find myself watching with wonder as GOP controlled state houses go through a kind of legislative Bataan death march to pass these restrictions where ultimately the entire process follows the same outrageously predictable, costly and unnecessary storyline. In each body of the legislature, there is first seemingly endless debate or in certain cases none at all, as an attempt is made to railroad the legislation through without any chance for opposing views to be heard and documented. Sometimes it is necessary for the bill’s proponents to amend or even completely ignore the rules of procedure, thus insuring the proposed legislation won’t fail prematurely through parliamentary maneuvering by the opposition. There are also, of course, the public protests and citizen testimony on both sides of the issue that sometimes famously go into the night, day after day for sometimes weeks on end and all with the accompanying bad press that inevitably follows the abortion debate, regardless of whether you support such legislation or not. Finally, after exhaustive work or sheer guile, the bill is passed and finds its way to the governor for his signature. It’s always seems to be “his” signature which I find very telling.
In the end, the fruits of their labors always appear to literally wither and die on the vine. All the work put forth to accomplish these goals is usually for nothing, as legislators watch as their new laws are promptly blocked by the federal courts as unconstitutional. It was suggested to me by a colleague that certain GOP legislators go through what he termed “abortion histrionics”, as it is part of the current Republican raison d’être to legislate as far to the political right as possible. There is a desire to appeal to a base that they are convinced will remove them from office, one way or the other, if they don’t pass unimaginably conservative laws to regulate our behavior. The irony, of course, is that the true extent to which such a constituency wields enough political clout or can bring out sufficient voters to level a credible threat toward lawmakers is uncertain. So it is that these legislators generally know these abortion restrictions are never going to pass muster in court but they try it anyway.
The motivation behind these Sisyphean endeavors I believe is two-fold. First, it pacifies that very dedicated (and mysterious) conservative base which they are convinced will make or break their political careers unless all women, regardless of circumstance, are compelled by the state to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, even one caused by rape or incest. Second, there are those odd true believers within the Republican party that are convinced that even though their efforts will fail when initially challenged in court, they hope to eventually find their bill at the U.S. Supreme Court and thus challenge and perhaps overturn Roe v. Wade, thereby allowing them to claim final legislative victory and bring moral correctness to a nation they see as hopelessly lost and damned for a collective promiscuity that exists only in their heads. They never consider that all would happen in the eventuality of Roe v. Wade’s dismissal is the decisions regarding abortion rights would return to the states, defeating the grand vision of a pure and chaste America that needn’t worry about the problems of women who refuse to simply put an aspirin between their knees.
There is something foul about the continued efforts to restrict abortion rights that go beyond the dictatorial and onerous desire to keep women from exercising their individual rights by controlling their bodies by force of law. Judge Hovland expressed it well his use of the word “expensive” in his ruling. These efforts are not simply misogynistic, which is bad enough. They are a waste of the taxpayer’s money. It costs plenty to litigate these matters and the eagerness of certain lawmakers to keep dipping into the people’s coffers to fund their own personal moral crusade should offend even the most politically conservative among us. What’s worse, they know these laws are doomed to collapse under legal scrutiny, which makes their efforts all the more odious.