Kevin Woster has long held the notion that if we can’t beat ’em, we should join ’em—or, more specifically, that in the absence of a South Dakota Democratic Party that can field a meaningfully sizable field of candidates, Democrats should register and run as Republicans to infiltrate the South Dakota Republican Party and work for moderation of GOP excesses from within.
Representative Taylor Rehfeldt’s retreat from her proposed teeny-tiny relaxation of South Dakota’s near-total abortion ban demonstrates that Woster’s approach likely won’t help us make gains for women’s rights.
The District 14/Sioux Falls Republican, who also practices nursing and experienced a miscarriage, spoke up last year against banning abortion pills. The specific bill she opposed, 2022 House Bill 1208, failed, not because Rehfeldt brought her fellow Republicans to their senses on women’s need to access safe and effective abortion medication but because it was sponsored by right-wing outsider extraordinaire Representative and gubernatorial primary candidate Steven Haugaard and sought to steal Governor Kristi Noem’s thunder in the war on abortion.
In this first post-Dobbs Session, Rep. Rehfeldt proposed 2023 House Bill 1169, which would have defined the threat to the life of a mother that serves as the only legal excuse for an abortion in South Dakota to include “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of one or more bodily functions.” Rehfeldt is four months pregnant. She has a medical condition that makes her pregnancy risky. She wants very much to give birth to her third child, but, as she explained to House Health and Human Services Tuesday, she also recognizes that if something goes wrong with this pregnancy, doctors in South Dakota may not be able to take action to preserve her life or health:
“I don’t think there is anyone else in this room that can care about the health of women more than myself,” Rehfeldt said.
In a tearful testimony, Rehfeldt told lawmakers she had experienced a miscarriage in the past and that with her first two children, and a current pregnancy, she is considered a high-risk during pregnancy.
“With the current law in place, I will tell you, I wake up fearful of my pregnancy, and what it would mean for my children, my husband and my parents if something happened to me, and the doctor cannot perform life-saving measures,” Rehfeldt said [Jazzmine Jackson, “Bill to Clarify SD Abortion Ban Tabled by Sponsor,” KELO-TV, updated 2023.02.08].
Rep. Rehfeldt says she worked with South Dakota Right to Life to hammer out language that would still suit their anti-abortion stance, but SDRTL ultimately opposed the bill, and without SDRTL on board, there was no way Rehfeldt could get enough of her Republican caucus on board. Thus, yesterday, Rehfeldt asked House HHS to table—i.e., kill—her bill without debate:
“I have absolute confidence that 99% of South Dakotans would agree with the concept of this bill, and in protecting both moms and babies. But here I am today unable to get consensus on a language that has been in place for 30 years,” Rehfeldt said.
…“I would have never thought that the idea of preserving the life of the mother would be debatable, or even considered not pro-life by some who would think that being pro-life could mean that we do not protect women, that we are not willing to provide clarification for doctors who have given their lives to care for not just one, but two patients,” Rehfeldt said [Jackson, 2023.02.08].
I have no reason to think Rehfeldt is a closet Democrat following the Woster strategy of infiltrating the Republican Party. She’s a smart mother and practicing nurse who just wants to add a modicum of medical decency to South Dakota’s abortion law. She’s part of the SDGOP mainstream leadership, so she should have the clout to move difficult legislation. She worked in good faith with SDRTL and its boss Dale Bartscher. I’m sure Bartscher gave Rehfeldt his best, beaming smile and spoke in the same gentle, kindly tone he uses with everyone (even with me!)
And then Bartscher turned and ordered that her bill, offering just a tiny bit of protection for pregnant women and their health, be summarily killed, without one full public hearing, because on this issue, South Dakota’s abortion extremists don’t want any moderation, not from Democrats, not from Republicans, not from nurses or doctors or worried moms and dads. They do not really want to protect women and women’s health. They want their abortion ban and their control of everyone’s uteri—your uterus, Taylor! and Erin’s uterus, and Sydney’s, and everyone else’s (but not anyone’s testicles, isn’t that strange?)—to be absolute.
And if Republican Representative Taylor Rehfeldt can’t advance such a mild exception to South Dakota’s abortion ban to protect women’s lives and health, then I guarantee no Democrat is going to infiltrate the party and work any greater defense of women’s health and proper autonomy. We won’t get rid of this Republican abortion ban and the Republican war on women by electing more Republicans.