"Ready for dinner"
Louisiana took another step in South Dakota’s footsteps this week, when the state Senate passed a bill that would ban all abortions except to save the life of the mother. If the bill becomes law, there will be no exception for the health of the mother, nor for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco — a Democrat, not that that seems to matter much — has said she’s prepared to sign some form of antiabortion legislation.
Some argue that the ban is unnecessary — the state Legislature “has gone on record outlining a policy stating that abortion would automatically be prohibited in Louisiana if Roe is reversed,” according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune — but bill author Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, wants to make extra sure. The ban won’t take effect immediately; last week, Nevers finally agreed to phrase the legislation’s language so that it would take effect only if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, in the interest of avoiding expensive court challenges. (With South Dakota spoiling for a Supreme Court fight when its ban takes effect in July, Louisiana is, at least for now, spared the burden of challenging Roe.)
While the ban passed overwhelmingly, with 30 votes for and just seven against, the debate has been sufficiently emotional that several state senators have distinguished themselves with feats of illogic. Last week in committee debate on the issue, Sen. Diana Bajoie, D-New Orleans, opposed allowing abortions to save the life of the mother, saying she wanted to “make [the ban] more pro-life” by not allowing any exceptions. Because that’s how you support life: by letting women, and, frequently, their fetuses, die of pregnancy-related complications.
And check this one out: State Sen. Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, proposed amending the bill to make an exception for rape and incest victims — sounds good so far, right? — but then said: “It would be presumptuous of me as a man to try to understand what a pregnancy from rape and incest does to a woman.” In fact, Chaisson said, “the bottom line for me is that it is not his (a priest’s) decision, it is not my decision, it is her decision. Sen. Nevers’ bill makes that decision for her.”
Just to be clear: Chaisson isn’t saying it’s a woman’s own decision if she wants to terminate any old unwanted pregnancy. Noooo. But if she can prove she was raped, or becomes pregnant from incestuous sex, then it suddenly becomes presumptuous for a man to imagine her predicament; then, and only then, does Chaisson regard the decision about abortion as hers to make. And he’s not alone in this; who can forget creepy South Dakota state Sen. Bill Napoli, who pantingly described the brutal acts a virgin should have to endure in order to qualify for an abortion? What is this about; why are these guys prepared to hand out privileges only to women who are victims? Are women less threatening if they’ve already been degraded, or is autonomous decision making some kind of reward for suffering? Can these guys only manage to empathize with the horror of being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term if the pregnancy was the result of violence? What is the deal, here?
Regardless, Chaisson’s proposed rape-and-incest exception didn’t end up being part of the bill; Nevers “said that a woman who has been traumatized by rape should not have to be subjected to another brutal act like abortion,” the Times-Picayune reported. Even if she wouldn’t so much be being subjected to it as choosing it for herself, it seems. “I cannot justify that in my mind,” Nevers said. Well, OK, case closed!
To help women in Louisiana, South Dakota and states with pending abortion bans, check out the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.More Page Rockwell.