Here we go.
The next time somebody on the right accuses somebody on the left of inflaming the nation's culture wars, remember the date: March 6, 2006. That's when South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, mounted a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade by signing into law a bill that outlaws abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother.
There is no exception for rape. There is no exception for incest.
What does Rounds have to say to rape and incest victims? Nothing, it seems. The governor is refusing all requests for interviews. In a statement issued by his office, he said that he's focused on protecting "the most helpless persons in our society," and those persons are "unborn children."
While the law may ultimately be bad news for women in South Dakota -- it won't go into effect until courts have their say -- it may put pro-choice advocates on higher ground in the meantime. Pro-choice groups were unable to galvanize much in the way of concerted public opposition to the Supreme Court nominations of John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, in part because neither justice represents the fifth vote for overturning Roe and in part because, for a lot of Americans, the abortion debate has remained a little abstract.
The South Dakota measure changes that. The law takes the abortion debate away from issues at the margins -- parental notification requirements, the federal ban on late-term, or so-called partial-birth, abortion -- and puts it at the core of the abortion question. Americans are divided on the former; they are not on the latter. In a CBS News poll taken in January, Americans rejected, by 75 percent to 23 percent, the notion that abortion should be outlawed entirely or remain legal only when necessary to protect the life of the mother.
On a measure like South Dakota's, then, it would seem that 75 percent of the public is with the Planned Parenthoods and NARALs and Hillary Clintons of the world. And that means it's time for someone like John McCain to squirm for a change. A spokesman for the Arizona senator said the other day that McCain "would have signed" the South Dakota legislation if he were the governor there, but that he "would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included."
It's a little hard to see how that would have worked. The critical innovation -- if you can call it that -- of the South Dakota law is that it outlaws abortion in cases of rape and incest. How would McCain have signed the law while ensuring that those exceptions existed? It's as if George W. Bush had signed McCain's ban on torture while insisting at the same time that he had the right to authorize torture. McCain has got to know that it doesn't work that way. Except, of course, when it does.