Johnson Will Run Again

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) will seek reelection in 2008 after suffering a major brain aneurysm last year. There’s been a great deal of secrecy over his condition, and the voters of South Dakota do have some interest in knowing whether their Senator can fulfill his duties. However, it looks like Senator Johnson will make a full recovery, and the voters will be able to decide whether to keep him in the Senate. The Senator and his family could have done a better job of communicating his status to the voters, but in the end, I don’t think that the voters will hold that against the Senator.

Sen. Johnson Recovering

CNN is reporting that South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson is recovering after his brain hemorrhage earlier this week. He remains in critical condition due to postoperative swelling of the brain, but that is typical in cases such as his. The political speculation about his seat, thankfully, appears to be moot. Unless Johnson has a dramatic turn for the worse, even with months of physical therapy, it seems unlikely that he would resign his seat or be so incapacitated that he cannot serve.

Johnson In Critical Condition

The Argus-Leader reports that Senator Tim Johnson is in critical condition after surgery to repair a brain hemorrhage. Johnson apparently had a condition called congenital arteriovenous malformation – the Mayo Clinic has some background information on the condition.

It is unclear how long Sen. Johnson may be out of commission, but it could be a long while. His condition is better than initially feared, but the process of recovery could take days, weeks, or even months.

It still seems quite premature to think about the political consequences at this time, there may be plenty of time for that later, and let us all hope that such considerations become unnecessary when Sen. Johnson recovers from his illness.

UPDATE: Apparently there is a 20-30% chance of some brain damage with these bleeding events, depending on where on the brain the bleeding was located. There has been no word on where the bleeding event occurred, although it will take some time for Senator Johnson to recover regardless. I still think it’s early to start speculating about the political consequences, although South Dakota law does allow the governor to appoint a Senator to fill a vacancy. It hasn’t come to that yet, and God willing it won’t.

Sen. Tim Johnson Hospitalized

South Dakota’s senior Senator, Tim Johnson (D) has been hospitalized for a suspected stroke.

Best wishes to Senator Johnson’s family, and here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for the Senator.

The Sioux Falls Argus-Leader has more on the situation. They’re already speculating about what might happen should Johnson be incapacitated — let’s all hope it doesn’t come to that.

UPDATE: Doctors are now saying that Sen. Johnson had neither a stroke nor a heart attack, but there isn’t a diagnosis of what illness he has. More as the situation develops…

Daschle Faces Reality

Tom Daschle has stated that he will not enter the 2008 Presidential race. That’s a smart move on his part, he simply doesn’t have the support necessary for a viable run. His loss in South Dakota has made him damaged goods politically, and he doesn’t offer enough to set him apart from the rest of the pack. A run for the Presidency would just be a case of throwing money and time down the toilet.

Daschle deserves some credit for facing reality, and has a chance to play the part of the elder statesman — and I’m not so sure that he might not have a chance at winning statewide office in South Dakota if he so chooses.

SD Abortion Ban Fails

CNN is predicting that the referendum on South Dakota’s abortion ban will fail.

The abortion ban was unconstitutional and draconian. Even as an opponent of abortion, I would have voted against it. Despite the push from churches to get people to vote for it, I’m not surprised it failed. It would have been struck down regardless, and it won’t prevent abortion. The South Dakota Legislature and Gov. Rounds would have been smarter to pursue an incremental attack on abortion.

Even for those many South Dakotans who oppose abortion on moral and ethical grounds, this ban was ill-conceived and doomed to failure.

Voting On South Dakota’s Abortion Ban

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting bit on the upcoming vote on South Dakota’s abortion ban. I agree with him: the South Dakota Legislature made a grave mistake by not putting this up to a popular vote. The law is basically null anyway, were it to be enacted it would never even be granted certiorari by the Supreme Court – it would likely end up being quickly struck down by the Circuit Court and then left there. The chances of this poorly-crafted, poorly-worded, and draconian law ever providing any kind of real legal challenge to Roe v. Wade are slim to none.

The South Dakota Legislature, led on by a group of people for whom the term “fanatic” is perfectly appropriate, made a dire mistake in passing this atrocious bill, and Gov. Rounds should never have signed it into law. Not only is it a moot point, but it has set back the cause of ending abortion in this country by decades. A wise legislative body would have slowly encroached on abortion – regulating it in such a way as to eliminate the financial benefits it provides to groups like Planned Parenthood. However, the South Dakota Legislature is not known for having a great deal of either tact or wisdom.

I have a feeling that Professor Reynolds is right – this law shall be overturned by the voters of South Dakota, as well it should be. Its draconian attempts to restrict all abortions, including those in the cases of rape and incest, go against the sensibilities of even people who are uncomfortable with or opposed to abortion. More innocent lives could be saved by an incremental approach – but fanatics aren’t known for their love of incrementalism. In the end, they have not only failed to achieve their objectives, but they’ve probably lost ground on this issue. Even though I am opposed to abortions except in the most extreme of cases, the South Dakota abortion bad is simply bad law, and should be voted down.

Abortion And Imprudence

There were two very good articles on the South Dakota abortion law this weekend: the first of which comes from columnist Steve Chapman:

For 33 years, opponents of abortion have followed the advice of St. Vincent de Paul, who said that if you must hurry, “hasten slowly.” Ever since the Supreme Court made abortion on demand the law of the land, pro-lifers have worked tirelessly to move the court and the country toward allowing greater protection for the unborn.

But today, some people in the anti-abortion movement are running low on patience. They are hastening quickly, oblivious to the risks to those they want to protect.

The people responsible for this bill did not consider what the ramifications would be. This was a horrendously rash decision that was not thought through at all – and the ultimate effect of this bill will be to ensure that abortion remains legal. Anyone who seriously believes that this bill will be a stake through the heart of Roe simply isn’t thinking rationally. As Chapman explains:

Assuming that Alito and Roberts would jump at the chance to scrap Roe, that still leaves five of the nine justices in favor of preserving abortion rights. If the court were to hear this case tomorrow, the chance that the law would survive can be calculated with depressing precision: zero.

The law also runs the risk of demanding too much of the two new members. Both are conservatives, and both have stressed their due respect for precedent. There are steps a justice might be willing to take after a few years on the court that he might not be willing to take right away. One of those is chucking a major decision that has been on the books for a generation.

The bill’s sponsor says he sees a “strong possibility” that John Paul Stevens will leave the court soon, to be succeeded by an anti-Roe justice. But that’s not counting chickens before they’re hatched — it’s counting them before the eggs are even laid.

The idea that Roe is going to be overturned by this court would require another justice to change their mind about Roe – which doesn’t seem likely. Furthermore, that assumes that the Supreme Court will even grant certiorari in this case – which is certainly not guaranteed. The chances of the sponsors of this bill getting what they want are not just imperceptably small – they’re zero. This bill won’t overturn Roe. It certainly won’t end abortion. What it will do is make the debate even more vitriolic than before and force the pro-life side to either repudiate part of itself or defend a bill that does not even make exception in the cases of incest or rape. That is not a tenable position, and those responsible for the bill have done more to aid the practice of abortion than nearly anyone.

Thomas Bray also considers the need for prudence:

Impatience also could jeopardize the solid progress – abortion declined nationally by 17 percent in the 1990s, and by up to half in states like Michigan between 1987 and 2003, it has been estimated –that anti-abortion forces have made by gradually de-legitimizing abortion while chipping away at Roe. This might be a good time for conservatives to choose prudence over Utopianism.

Bray is quite right. The South Dakota bill and the others like it are incredibly imprudent pieces of legislation. Even if Roe were repealed, abortions would still be endemic in this country. How many lives would truly be saved if Roe were repealed? New York and California represent the largest share of abortions in the country, and neither state would be particularly likely to ban the procedure any time soon. The only way to truly reduce the number of abortions nationwide is not to change the law but change the culture. That had slowly been happening as technology allowed women to see a fetus not as some “tissue mass” but as a person in its own right. Now, because of this imprudent and ill-considered move by the legislature of South Dakota, those cultural shifts will be washed away in a tide of political rancor.

Abortion Protests In Sioux Falls

I managed to get some pictures of the Planned Parenthood rally at the Sioux Falls Federal courthouse over my lunch break today – unfortunately I won’t be able to upload them or provide much commentary until early evening. Check back here then for some imagery and commentary…

UPDATE: I only had a few minutes to snap some photos – had I more time I would have loved to interview people on both sides of the debate. I’d estimate somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 people on the Planned Parenthood side, and maybe three dozen on the pro-life side across the narrow Phillips Avenue on the other side of the courthouse. There was no confrontation between the two groups. The Planned Parenthood people had their slogans and the pro-life people mainly prayed quietly.

Pro-Life Protestors

As you can see, there were a few priests on the pro-life side – not surprising since Sioux Falls has a large Catholic population. I’m not sure how this debate will play out in this state – South Dakota is strongly religious and deeply conservative. At the same time, most South Dakotans – even those who are against the practice of abortion – may be very wary of this bill. South Dakotans don’t like to call attention to themselves, and this new law puts South Dakota firmly on the national spotlight.

Next to the Planned Parenthood protesters was a group of women dressed in black:

Pro-Life Protesters

These were women who have had abortions that have come over to the pro-life side because of their experiences. In my experiences with the whole abortion debate, that isn’t uncommon, and the most viscerally anti-abortion people I’ve known have been women who had abortions when they were young and came to deeply regret it since.

I try not to deal with the abortion debate too much myself as its a debate with no good solutions. This rash law by the government of South Dakota has only hardened the battle lines in the abortion debate, which is not a positive direction. It won’t prevent abortions, and if this law is enforced the images of doctors being led away in handcuffs is going to turn a lot of fence-sitters over to the pro-abortion side.

At the same time, the argument that something as important as a nascent human life can be abstracted down to something as trivial as a “choice” is deeply disturbing to me. Human life is not a matter of choice. A society that pays so little respect to the most vulnerable is not a healthy society, and the arguments that abortion is about women’s health or “reproductive rights” strike me as largely fatuous.

The fact is that you cannot isolate sex and reproduction. They are biologically tied together. That doesn’t mean that sex is solely about reproduction, elsewise human culture and biology would be vastly different. At the same time, people can’t try to shirk the sometimes harsh realities of life. If a man sleeps with every woman he sees, sooner or later he’s going to end up with a paternity suit – and when it comes to reproductive law men are treated as second-class citizens. An allegation of rape, even when There seems to me to be a strong case that if women are granted full reproductive rights, men should be given the same consideration.

Planned Parenthood Protesters

In the end, however, the South Dakota bill doesn’t change anything. The bill is going to be quickly struck down by the courts and the status quo will remain. Instead of pushing for a total ban, smart lawmakers should push for more and more restrictions on abortion along the lines of Germany. A law which requires mandatory counseling before an abortion can be performed makes sense for both the life of the fetus but also the mental and physical health of the mother. Had the South Dakota Legislature been thinking, they might have gone that direction before stirring up a hornet’s nest – more lives would have been saved, both children and mothers.

Why South Dakota’s Abortion Ban Is a Pyhrric Victory For Life

National Review has an excellent editorial on South Dakota’s abortion-ban legislation:

Since these statutes are extremely unlikely to result in the end of Roe, they will not succeed in making the law just. And since the courts will probably quickly strike down these laws, they will not stop a single abortion either.

That’s 0 for 3. On the plus side of the ledger, the states will have communicated that resistance to the Roe regime is stronger than the conventional wisdom about its popularity would suggest. But that is not a sufficiently valuable benefit to make up for the damage these laws are likely to do to the pro-life cause.

I completely agree. This was a horrendously rash decision that will set the pro-life cause back by years. Especially given that the bill doesn’t make exceptions for incest or rape. Instead of moving the culture towards one that values the lives of the unborn, the South Dakota Legislature has bloodied its hands by hardening the lines against the pro-life cause by making them look like a bunch of unthinking zealots – which I’m afraid in some cases may not be too far from the truth.

The way to end abortion – or at least minimize its effects is to change the culture first and let the laws follow those changes. The civil rights movement succeeded because the moral injustices of segregation were made clear long before Brown v. Board of Education – the culture changed before the law. New advances in sonographic images made the idea of a child being something as abstract as a mere “choice” much harder for women to accept. Now, the South Dakota Legislature has single-handedly set back the pro-life cause by years. Now it’s once again about a bunch of heartless white males who want to oppress women rather than a group of people who see the measure of a nation in how well it protects the life of the most innocent of us. Once again it’s about court decisions and politics rather than human life.

This law has ensured that the abortion debate will only become more acrimonious, it will not strike down Roe, it will not prevent more abortions, and despite the fact that Gov. Rounds said that he had reservations about the bill, he signed it into law anyway. He, and the rest of those who did not consider the ramifications of this bill, bear the responsibility for the damage that it will cause.