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Boycott South Dakota for Stripping Women of Their Fundamental Human Rights

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Last week, the South Dakota state Senate passed a bill banning nearly all legal access to abortion. The one exception to the ban legalizes abortion to save the life of the pregnant woman, a very different exception than those that exist to protect the health of the woman. This is an important distinction, as is the noted lack of an exception in cases of rape and incest.

A Republican sponsor of the bill, state Representative Roger W. Hunt, stated that such exceptions (for health, rape, and incest) were "special circumstances" that would diluted the bill itself and its impact on the national scene. Planned Parenthood's director in South Dakota, Kate Looby, was dismayed by the ban's limited exceptions (as well as the law itself, of course), and said, "We fully expected this, yet it's still distressing to know that this legislative body cares so little about women, about families, about women who are victims of rape or incest." The feeling in the progressive community is much the same.

There are pro-choice Americans calling this bill the "Rapist Reproductive Rights Act of 2006." While this may seem an extreme spin, it is not without merit. Women and girls who are victims of rape and incest suffer the initial pain of attacks and abuse as well as long-term emotional, mental, and physical pain from these experiences. Expounding that pain with the pain of being forced to carry the child of the rapist or abuser is, in the opinion of many opponents of the ban, a violation of the fundamental human rights of these victims.

Proponents of bans such as this one argue that the unborn child is not responsible for the abuse suffered by the impregnated woman and should thus not be punished for the crime that was committed. It is, therefore, completely logical to punish the raped woman by forcing her to carry the child of her rapist.

What lies at the heart of this disagreement is whose life and well-being supersedes the other's. Pro-choice Americans believe that the life and well-being of a living, breathing, independent woman supersedes that of an embryo, which is not viable outside of the mother's uterus. No woman, regardless of how she was impregnated, should be forced by the state to carry a pregnancy to term. But in the case of rape, the freedom to terminate a pregnancy is paramount. The lifelong effects of rape are like no other in known existence. Compounding them with a forced birthing is a devastation akin to torture.

A young girl who is forced into sexual acts by her father will be scarred for as long as she lives. One who becomes pregnant through this unnatural, unthinkable abuse should have the choice, of her own free will, not to carry the child of her abuser. Such pregnancies, resulting from incest, are likely to occur in girls who are not yet physically ready to give birth, and such a birth can cause intense physical trauma, including the inability to give birth by choice later in life. This does not even take into account the massive emotional trauma such a person would undergo.

As a pro-choice American, I abhor all efforts by the state to suppress the right of any woman to terminate a pregnancy for any reason she sees fit. This decision is rarely made easily, and going through an abortion often has lifelong negative effects on the quality of life of a woman who has to make this choice. This, however, is not a reason to outlaw it, just one in support of all pregnant women considering termination to seek counseling in making their decision, carrying it out, and living with it afterwards.

To force a woman to carry and deliver a child borne out of violence, degradation, and humiliation is absolutely unconscionable. The law tries to protect all citizens of this country from violence in all of its forms, so it is illogical and irresponsible to make an exception to this general rule in favor of rapists.

In light of this legal transgression, which effectively strips women in South Dakota, and potentially all women who live in this country, of their fundamental human rights, I am working with other pro-choice progressive activists to initiate a large-scale boycott of South Dakota.

Many have questioned the potential impact of a boycott, arguing that there is nothing of interest in South Dakota or coming from the state that would be effective collateral. What most people do not realize is that although South Dakota is a primarily agriculturally-driven state, it also rakes in over a billion dollars every year from tourism.

The state of South Dakota is rich in environmental wonders-Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, numerous parks that supply camping and fishing opportunities, and great skiing. Every year, there is a huge motorcycle enthusiast rally in Sturgis that draws thousands of bikers from Harley Owner Group chapters all over the country. The Sturgis rally draws in over a half a million dollars in tax revenues alone every summer.

We who are working on spreading the word of this boycott are encouraging all pro-choice bikers to boycott the Sturgis rally this August and to encourage their fellow motorcyclists to join them. We are also urging them to consider moving the rally to another state that defends women's rights. We believe that a Sturgis rally boycott alone could make a difference in this fight.

However, we are also recommending that all conscientious pro-choice Americans contact South Dakota's legislators, Governor Michael Rounds (who is enthusiastic about signing the bill, but who we believe might waver if the economic stability of his state were compromised by this decision), the offices of all of the major tourist attractions in the state, and H.O.G. chapter directors and other chapter officers to inform them of our intentions and ask them to join us in solidarity for women's reproductive freedom. We have also been in contact with MoveOn.org and are planning to issue formal requests to other progressive organizations to join us in this fight.

Relegating our female citizens to second-class status, refusing to uphold their right to make their own reproductive decisions, and damning them to a lifetime of pain and suffering by forcing them to birth the children of their abusers is in violation of everything we believe as a nation. Women are supposed to be respected, equal citizens of this country under law. That such laws have been required is sad enough, but to take back what was so grudgingly bestowed after a long and arduous battle that continues even today is unacceptable.

Please join us in our efforts to change the course of women's rights. We need your help, your passion, and your activism to make women's liberation a true success.


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Katherine Brengle is a freelance writer and activist.
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