To my fellow South Dakotans, here is my position on abortion.
I am pro-life. When I use those words it means that I believe in supporting and ensuring a dignified life for the whole of life, from the womb to the grave.
As a former judge, I also respect the rule of law and I recognize that today, based upon constitutional rulings, the right to an abortion is allowed by the law and that it will remain the law until either the Supreme Court changes it or a constitutional amendment is passed. And despite all the talk from politicians, no member of South Dakota’s current congressional delegation has offered such an amendment on the floor of Congress, nor has any such amendment reached the floor of Congress in over 30 years.
The competing rights involved and the vast divergence of how reasonable people see this topic are what make it an achingly difficult and highly divisive issue. Yet, the sad reality is that the abortion debate is only one of several issues that have polarized us as Americans.
And we’ve allowed our differences to keep us from working together on problems we can agree exist and can address.
We need to apply generous doses of tolerance and respect for the differences in one another’s views, which often spring from deeply personal life experiences. Then we must put our heads together seeking ways we can move forward together.
We have not done a good job of caring for vulnerable young lives on either side of the birth process. Abortion and our failure to care for vulnerable children in dysfunctional homes all across America are twin problems that represent different sides of the same coin. Think of this: there were around 900,000 abortions in 2014. In addition, an estimated 2,000,000 more children last year suffered from abuse or other maltreatment that will have a profound impact on their lives.
Re-establishing a respect for vulnerable, young life only begins by outlawing abortion, because ending legal abortion without adding protections for pregnant women will not only result in other harms; it also won’t resolve this deeper cultural disrespect that fails to protect our most vulnerable children after birth.
That’s why we should think not just about laws that outlaw abortion but about laws that protect life and ensure its dignity.
To do that we must develop meaningful measures to help women — especially those who are poor and abandoned — who find themselves pregnant, including protection from workplace and educational discrimination. And it means confronting some of the factors underlying the decision to abort by ensuring access to prenatal care and quality childcare, encouraging family leave; eliminating discrimination against pregnant workers; improving the adoption process, and ensuring that all Americans, including children and their caregivers, have affordable healthcare.
This is the path to a life of dignity for each vulnerable child.
An approach that simply outlaws abortion but fails to address our troubling infant mortality rates, food insecurity, abuse and neglect, and poor academic outcomes among poor children isn’t worthy of the label ‘pro-life.’ The person who is truly pro-life actively works to protect vulnerable children born into highly dysfunctional homes, to ensure our collective responsibility to protect and educate them so that they have a fair shot at a decent life, because that person realizes this: they are ALL our children.
It is the right thing morally, but it is also the fiscally responsible thing to do, because it’s the surest way to narrow the road to school failure and prison, and to widen the path for those children to become responsible citizens.
Only this sort of whole life approach can make a movement authentically pro-life.
There is more. While both sides have debated the abortion issue for over 40 years, each side has too often taken its collective eyes off the underlying problem in the abortion debate — unintended pregnancy — which has, ironically, mushroomed since 1973. Consider these numbers: among adults with no more than a diploma — who are mostly low income - the unintended birth rate is startlingly higher than that of all other Americans, and is now stunningly more than twice that of the emerging world average!
Those numbers help explain why today in South Dakota, 47 percent of births are paid for by Medicaid. And why about 2 in 3 mothers with a high school diploma or less raise children in single-parent homes. And why 70 percent of children born to never-married parents grow up in poverty, at high risk for academic failure.
Fiscal responsibility alone should cause us to ensure that every adult – including those who cannot afford them – have access to contraceptives that will prevent pregnancy when not trying to conceive.
This is particularly important among those struggling with addiction. As a judge, I witnessed the unspeakably tragic pattern of unintended pregnancies for children entering the world from the womb of a mother addicted to meth, after the state government had ended the mother’s Medicaid eligibility because she no longer had a minor child in the home.
How can we say to the child born to a meth-addicted mom that she has been given a fair shot at life?
Regardless of one’s views on abortion, we should be able to join forces to actually confront the root of the problem: unintended pregnancy, a condition that has reached epidemic proportions among impoverished women in this state and nation, and that profoundly impacts our economy, our families, and our most precious resource: our children. No less than the preservation of the American Dream for millions of our children is at stake in how we respond to this challenge.
The path forward for our state and nation is to ensure a life with dignity to every child.
Thanks for reading.