Mellissa Heermann, Republican candidate for District 7 House from Brookings, appears to support a few more exceptions to South Dakota’s near-total abortion ban, but not exceptions for rape or incest:
Heermann will let women choose to abort their pregnancies to save their own lives, which South Dakota law currently permits, to save the life of one twin in the womb, which South Dakota law currently does not allow. Heermann also supports “medical interventions for ectopic, miscarriage, stillbirths, and nonviable pregnancies,” although that statement leaves unclear whether Heermann would allow women to choose to abort their pregnancies in those situations immediately and unconditionally, whether those conditions would have to be creating health problems for the women, or whether the women would have to wait, as South Dakota law currently requires, for those conditions to put the women in peril of imminent death.
Heermann cribs a bit of the vagueness deployed by her fellow Republican Legislative aspirant Amber Arlint from Sioux Falls, but she at least makes clear that she supports a slightly broader range of choice for pregnant women than South Dakota law currently allows. But notice how she rejects the description of her position as “pro-choice”: she insists she is “Pro-Life” (which Heermann must capitalize, as it is a holy term, guaranteeing her entry into Republican Heaven), and when her interlocutor, abortion-rights advocate Tiffany Campbell, points out that she is also pro-choice, Heermann terminates the argument immediately.
Heermann is avoiding what to her is an ugly truth of Republicans’ absolutist propaganda. Her answer, even with its persistent vagueness, reveals that one can “believe in the sanctity of human life and that it is precious and a gift” and still believe that there are times when a woman has the right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. She is literally both “pro-life” and “pro-choice”.
The same can be said of Campbell, of me, and of anyone else who supports women’s right to control their bodies and their pregnancies. We can believe that government should not intrude on this fundamental issue of bodily autonomy that uniquely affects (dare I say defines?) women. We can do so from a belief that life is a precious gift but that its sanctity lies in equal dignity, which requires, among other things, freedom from forced pregnancy. Force any woman who does not wish to be pregnant to remain pregnant, and you deny her equal dignity; you subordinate the sanctity of her life to a potentiality of cells inside her body. If you do not support choice, you do not really support life. Conversely, if you support life, you can tell the pregnant women who consult you, “Gee, the potentiality inside you will become a human life someday, so I hope you don’t choose to terminate your pregnancy,” yet simultaneously and with complete philosophical integrity believe that those pregnant women may rightfully decide for themselves, without government coercion, whether to carry their pregnancies to term.
We are all pro-life, which shows the speciousness, if not the utter uselessness, of using that term to distinguish politicians. As Mellissa Heermann shows, we are all also pro-choice, which means that term, too, doesn’t really illuminate, at least as a standalone label. We differ in the range of choice we want women to have… and the honesty with which we will address our simultaneous support for “life” and “choice”.