How would you like to vote on the meaning of life in November?
Gubernatorial candidate and Representative Steven Haugaard (R-10/Sioux Falls) wanted to throw us that philosophical party with House Joint Resolution 5003, a constitutional amendment that would declare human life begins at fertilization.
Haugaard’s original text sought to put before the voters this definition of “human being”:
The term, human being, means each member of the species homo sapiens, at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization or cloning, or other moment at which a member of the species comes into being [HJR 5003, original language, filed 2022.02.02].
Haugaard seeks this vote not to respect life but to disrespect women, to provide a constitutional foothold for subordinating pregnant women’s autonomy to the perceived “rights” of a fertilized clump of cells and uniting the state with that clump of cells in demanding women’s bodily service.
House State Affairs took up HJR 5003 on Wednesday, February 16. The committee had just granted Haugaard’s request to table his House Bill 1326, an absolute ban on abortion. Taking the legalistic position that stymied Governor Kristi Noem’s copycat Texas abortion proposal, Haugaard and the committee worried that new legislation moving South Dakota toward a complete abortion ban could monkeywrench the state’s courtroom defense of its current already draconian abortion restrictions. Such fretful legalism did not stop House Health and Human Services yesterday from narrowly advancing Haugaard’s House Bill 1208, a total ban on mifepristone and other abortion drugs. Nor did that legal chess deter Haugaard from advocating that we let voters decide whether human life and rights begin the moment sperm meets egg.
Super-lobbyist Justin Bell spoke on behalf of the South Dakota State Medical Association against HJR 5003. Bell opened by making explicit SDSMA’s fence-sitting on whether abortion should be legal. He said HJR 5003 was problematic because it spoke of human life beginning at fertilization, not conception, would complicate birth control, in vitro fertilization, and miscarriage management by subjecting health care providers to potential Class A and B felony charges. He said the Supreme Court come June could completely change the constitutional landscape for debating abortion and the definition of human life and suggested it would be better to wait for that ruling and then maybe hold a Special Session to propose new legislation.
Lobbyist A. Jason Rumpca spoke against HJR 5003 on behalf of the South Dakota Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Rumpca said the effect of HJR 5003 would be unclear, but doctors fear the application of this definition would “open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences that would unnecessarily complicate and negatively impact their ability to practice medicine in South Dakota.” Rumpca seconded the SDSMA’s concerns that in vitro fertilization would be complicated.
Haugaard rebutted that IVF is based on the idea that we can create life and then dispose of it “if that’s not the ones you want.” Evidently he’d be fine with granting human status to every fertilized egg in every test tube and obligate… someone—the woman who donated the eggs? the men who provided the sperm? the hospital? the community?—to gestate and raise those embryos.
Haugaard’s absolutism is radical and uncompromising. His colleagues aren’t quite so boldly disruptive. Haugaard’s fellow misogynist lawyer Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids) reworded the amendment:
The term, human being, means an individual living member of the species of Homo sapiens, including the unborn human being during the entire embryonic and fetal ages from fertilization to full gestation [HJR 5003, as amended by House State Affairs, 2022.02.16].
Hansen said he takes his definition from existing statute [see SDCL 34-23A-1(4)]. He said this definition has survived judicial scrutiny at the Eighth Circuit. Hansen did not say anything else. Hansen left unaddressed whether this judicially tested definition would lead to the total shutdown of in vitro fertilization that Haugaard would apparently embrace.
House State Affairs is apparently committed to leaving this weighty debate entirely to the voters. Without any comment from other members, the committee approved Hansen’s amendment and then approved HJR 5003 as amended on an 8–4 vote. Republicans Hansen, Wiese, Gosch, Goodwin, Beal, Chaffee, Chris Johnson, and Kevin Jensen voted aye, Democrats Smith and Lesmeister and Republicans Anderson and Kent Peterson voted nay. Rep. Rebecca Reimer missed this vote.
HJR 5003 heads to the House floor next week either Tuesday or Wednesday. Wednesday is Crossover Day, the deadline for all joint resolutions and bills to pass their chambers of origin.