The First Amendment prohibits government interference in religion and conversely, religious interference in government. The government cannot endorse any one religion; it’s our great bulwark, our wall of separation, between us and the great historical evil of state-sponsored religion.
But somebody forgot to tell lawmakers in South Dakota.
We’ve seen a lot of madness lately, coming from Republican ranks where women’s reproductive rights are concerned. Despite all the talk about being against government interference and regulation in our lives, the Republicans have demonstrated that they are all for the government being in our business – our very private business.
They want to make it legal to murder abortion doctors, or to make miscarriages illegal. They want spies in our bedrooms.
The South Dakota legislature has before it a bill (House Bill 1217 or HB 1217) which would force all women who need an abortion to get religious counseling at a Crisis pregnancy center before waiting 72 hours before the procedure is performed (the national norm is 24 hours and that is what South Dakota’s current waiting period is). Worse, the woman would be forced to “prove” that she is not being coerced. How do you prove something like that?
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee likes the bill; they voted 6-1 to send it to the full chamber. The House has already passed the bill. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, they say, is likely to sign it though his spokesman won’t say either way. In case you’re wondering, the Republicans have a 30-5 majority in the Senate.
As Care2 points out, “Assuming the bill becomes law it will likely face a legal challenge as it unreasonably restricts women’s rights to access legal health care procedure.”
Mandatory counseling/waiting bills are offensive for a number of reasons. They drum up the imaginary problem of women “rushing” through the decision and process of terminating a pregnancy when the evidence does not support this reality at all. They also take away from women the right to make informed medical decisions and instead institute a “gatekeeper” charged with “protecting” the woman from the pernicious forces of medical advice.
The bill is certainly unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds alone. The state cannot meddle in religion; it cannot force a person to have religious counseling. What if the person is an atheist? What if the person is a Jew, or a Muslim, or like me, a Heathen? The ACLU has already announced a court challenge should the bill be signed into law. South Dakotans have already twice rejected measures that would ban abortions, but the Republican Party really doesn’t care what the people think, despite all the talk about “democracy.” They only want the people’s opinion if the people agree with them.
Did I forget to mention? The spiritual counseling gimmick Christian.
Crisis pregnancy centers are at their core anti-abortion fronts grounded in Christian-right anti-choice ideology. They almost always receive state funding and, through legislation such as what is pending in South Dakota, become de facto benefactors of the state and entangle the state into essentially sponsoring or endorsing a specific religious belief about abortion. And that is key as cpc’s don’t offer verified and accurate scientific evidence to buttress their recommendations.
So when the state anoints these religious-based crisis pregnancy centers to gatekeepers of access to reproductive health services it is forcing women to under go religious rather than medical counseling prior to accessing these services.
Oh, and by the way, pro-choice groups can’t run these crisis counseling centers. According to the bill:
The pregnancy help center has a facility or office in the state of South Dakota in which it routinely consults with women for the purpose of helping them keep their relationship with their unborn children; that one of its principal missions is to educate, counsel, and otherwise assist women to help them maintain their relationship with their unborn children; that they do not perform abortions at their facility, and have no affiliation with any organization or physician which performs abortions; that they do not now refer pregnant women for abortions, and have not referred any pregnant women for an abortion at any time in the three years immediately preceding July 1, 2011.
Yeah, the fix is in, folks.
The state really has no business telling people their need to cope spiritually with an issue – any issue. Spirituality does not come under state or federal purview. Spirituality is not in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. What’s next? Requiring that you belong to a church before you are able to exercise your constitutional rights to do anything?
South Dakota teeters on a dangerous slope here and measures like this are tantamount to declaring a theocratic state. This is an unconstitutional and repressive measure, better suited to the era Thomas Jefferson and James Madison thought they had put behind us. South Dakota needs to reconsider its priorities and think very carefully about the consequences of state-sponsored religion.