Voices
Jim Lo Scalzo

Jujitsu in South Dakota

A groundbreaking law deterring access to abortion could work in other states too

Issue: "Libyan exodus," March 26, 2011

I've never participated in a jujitsu contest, nor even watched a match up close. But I'm intrigued with what I understand to be the essence of the sport. A really good jujitsu competitor has learned how to use his opponent's superior weight and strength against him.

Maybe that's what happened a couple of weeks ago in South Dakota, where the state legislature approved a bill that has the potential for drastically reducing the number of abortions in that state. If it works, it could be a pattern for other states as well.

For all of the 38 years since abortion-on-demand was validated by the U.S. Supreme Court, the pro-lifer argument has tended to be focused on the babies whose lives were at stake. What could be more sensible? Babies are lovable. Babies are sentimental. Babies can make you cry. Here at WORLD magazine, we have tended to put pictures of babies on the covers of our annual Roe v. Wade issues.

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Pro-abortionists, meanwhile, have tended to put the focus on the babies' mothers, and their so-called "rights." Fair enough. A young woman facing an unanticipated and not-so-blessed event can tug at your heartstrings. And the resilience of the pro-abortion movement over the last four decades suggests that the American public, rightly or wrongly, has been ready to extend its sympathies to the mothers. Indeed, in South Dakota just four years ago, voters turned down-by a 56-44 margin-a ban on abortions that had been duly passed by the legislature, suggesting that the law wasn't sympathetic enough in tone to desperate and needy mothers.

Now, however, South Dakota lawmakers have fashioned a deterrent to abortion that makes the mothers look more like victims than perpetrators. The bad guys, in this scenario, are the doctors who promote abortion. To protect young and vulnerable women against them, the new South Dakota law requires a 72-hour waiting period between a first consultation and the actual abortion. Also required, before an abortion is permitted, is written evidence that the woman has visited a pregnancy help center to hear "the rest of the story."

Leslee Unruh and her activist husband Allen have poured thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into a legislative victory that they predict might have profound impact. "The abortionists can't afford to wait 72 hours," the Unruhs claim, "because they know that a significant number of mothers will have second thoughts and never come back for an abortion." That will be the case, they argue, even if the young mothers never show up at a pregnancy help center. And for those who do go to such a center, the odds are greatly increased that they will never proceed with an abortion.

Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri agrees that the South Dakota law breaks ground in three ways: First, the 72-hour waiting period is three times longer than any other state's. Second, no other state requires that the pregnant mother get counsel from a "pregnancy help center." Third, while other states have required in-person counsel from the abortion center itself, none have required that the physician who intends to perform the abortion personally offer such counsel.

The new law, however, faces hurdles. South Dakota's Gov. Dennis Daugaard said last week that he was "inclined to sign the bill." But supporters and opponents expect legal challenges through the courts and perhaps by forcing yet another voter referendum.

If another referendum is on the horizon, though, pro-lifers hope that maybe this time the weight of their demonstrated concern for the mothers-as well as the babies-will provide something of a jujitsu effect in what has become a delicate and extended contest.
Email Joel Belz

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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