THE BLOG

The World Needs More Dakotans

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

The world needs, apparently, more Dakotans. Thanks to yesterday's signing of what's billed as the most sweeping anti-abortion law in the nation, women in South Dakota could soon get the honor of bringing more of them forth, whether the women want to or not.

What is it about South Dakota that makes men want so badly to breed? Is the loneliness of the prairie and the vast dirt emptiness of the Black Hills so profoundly affecting that only the idea of more brand-new babies can relieve it? Shouldn't the state's lawmakers be more worried about how to improve things for their already-born residents, who find the land is so ungenerous, the place so jobless, that they are moving away faster than they can be replaced? Is forcing their females into unwanted motherhood the best solution they can come up with in the face of what the social scientists call long-term economic stress?

These are questions that Governor Michael Rounds did not bother to ponder when he signed the bill into law, mouthing predictable Christian radio platitudes about how "unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society."

What Rounds really wanted to do, of course, was congratulate himself and the legislature for helping make South Dakota the state that gives Alito and Roberts the chance to show their stuff and really, truly thank Focus on the Family for their lifetime jobs. With a stroke of the pen, Rounds ensured that the state of South Dakota will now waste millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars defending their statute, in the hopes of getting a favorable hearing from Alito and Roberts and thereby winning the moral jackpot for all eternity.

The last time I was in the Dakota territories, I was following Pat Buchanan in his whirlwind campaign for president. Wheels down, briefly, in Rapid City airport, 1996. Pat was on a roll, having just pulled off a shocking win in New Hampshire, and his stump speech -- anti-abortion, pro-gun -- had earned him the nickname "Lock and Load" after his signature, crowd-pleasing closing line.

By the time we reached Rapid City on that raw, late winter afternoon, we'd been in four or five states and three different climate zones in something like 24 hours. My trained-observer faculties were a little jagged, I must admit. I am pretty sure though that what I witnessed at that airport was real and not a hallucination provoked by sleep deprivation and sensory overload.

We stumbled off the plane and were met at the gate by a small but vocal, flag-waving crowd of Pat's people: American Gothic-styled, grim-faced men in blue overalls flanked by pairs or trios of women in long floral dresses, a local polygamist sect, apparently. They wouldn't be interviewed but I couldn't take my eyes off the females. These glaze-eyed, pod-women had been allowed to make the trip to the airport that afternoon to see and hear Pat, in what was surely their only voyage off the dirt vista of the frozen American steppe since their last trip to the hospital delivery room.

According to the New York Times, there is only one single abortion clinic left in South Dakota anyway, in Sioux Falls. About 800 women a year get abortions there. Those women represent the tiniest percentage of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies in the state of South Dakota. The rest don't even bother to try to find a doctor who will help them. They just get with the Graco program.

"This is our time," crowed South Dakota legislator Roger Hunt, who sponsored the bill that would make felons of doctors who perform abortions in any case except where the life of the pregnant woman was in jeopardy.

I don't think I'm alone in wanting to debate Mr. Hunt on the definitions of "life" and "jeopardy." Mr Hunt: Having an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy on the vacant flats of South Dakota with no job, no meaningful purpose in life, and no way out would seem to me to put a "life" in "jeopardy."

I know there are organizations in New York City that already house women from states where abortion clinics are few and far between. If the United States Supreme Court picks up the Dakota gauntlet and puts the United States back on equal footing with Catholic Ireland and Taliban Afghanistan, so that states are allowed to criminalize what we now consider a right, I'll put the first $100 into a fund that for starters, would buy the dwindling number of women in South Dakota plane tickets to states that may still respect their rights. I welcome the advice of the financially savvy to set this up.