Senator Erin Tobin (R-21/Winner) is unhappy that the anti-abortion absolutists of her Republican Party, the people on whom she relies for her political career, killed House Bill 1169, the bill she worked on with Representative Taylor Rehfeldt (R-14/Sioux Falls) to include “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of one or more bodily functions” along with imminent death as an excuse South Dakota would allow women to use for aborting pregnancies (if they can find doctors willing to stake their careers on such diagnoses in a state committed to throwing medical professionals in prison and stripping their licenses for doing their jobs).
But Senator Tobin’s unhappiness isn’t going to make any progress in bringing back such meager accommodations of women’s bodily autonomy if she can’t a better case for HB 1169 than the essay she posts to her party’s spin blog.
Senator Tobin says nothing about the specifics of HB 1169. She continues to wallow in the euphemism that HB 1169 is intended to “clarify” South Dakota’s near-total abortion ban. The current law, triggered immediately by the Dobbs decision last June, allows abortion only “to preserve the life of the pregnant female”—i.e., to prevent the pregnant woman from dying. Tobin and Rehfeldt are expanding the exception to embrace preserving the life and the health of the pregnant woman. That’s not a clarification; that’s an expansion. That’s allowing more women in dire medical situations to have abortions who cannot have abortions right now. That’s why South Dakota Right to Life opposed the bill: it means (in theory, at least, although I still wonder if in practice any doctor will feel legally safe performing any abortion in South Dakota unless we pass the ballot measure to codify Roe v. Wade in 2024) that more abortions will happen, and the anti-abortion absolutists will not stand for anything other than progress toward zero abortions.
In her essay, Tobin never mentions protecting the health of the mother. She only speaks of protecting the life of the mother, which any reasonable observer (not to mention any member of South Dakota Right to Life) can say is already clearly protected by current law.
If Tobin believes we need additional exceptions to South Dakota’s abortion ban, she needs to say so, clearly. She needs to tell South Dakota Right to Life that they are wrong on this issue, that women deserve more control over their bodies, that the state ought not place women at risk of crippling physical injury just to satisfy Republicans’ religious absolutism and “pro-life” marketing strategy.
But being beholden to South Dakota Right to Life and South Dakota’s Christo-fascist establishment evidently renders Tobin and others rhetorically impotent in discussing the merits of women’s health. Instead of advocating for HB 1169 and its health exception itself, instead of daring to say the quiet part out loud—that the anti-abortion absolutism that propelled Republicans to electoral victory and control of the Supreme Court harms is wrong and that we must allow more women to abort their pregnancies—Tobin can only speak to the HB 1169 balkers in political terms.
Instead of composing an argument for allowing exceptions to protect pregnant women’s health, Tobin dedicates an entire paragraph to a misdirected sports metaphor:
The situation Republicans are in now is different than we have ever been in, as we have been on the defense for so long and have been defending life against the Supreme Court’s previous decision. Now we are on the offense. We, Republicans, have the ball in hand. The situation we are in could be compared to leading a football game by one point with a few minutes left, having the ball, and not making any bad decisions that could lead to a turnover. We need to keep our pro-life team educated, aware, and on task. There is so much more to lose than a football game. If we lose the ball, it is the end game, the final countdown, and everything is at stake [Sen. Erin Tobin, “HB 1169 Needed to Clarify Law and to Hold the Line Against Proposed Constitutional Amendment,” Dakota War College, 2023.02.10].
Hey, I know the Super Bowl is this weekend, but that doesn’t mean we have to reduce every serious policy discussion to football lingo… and especially not when the football metaphor doesn’t make any sense. Republicans weren’t on defense for the last 50 years. They were on offense, attacking Roe v. Wade and women’s rights, taking over the Judiciary, and overturning a standing Constitutional right. In South Dakota, they are defending the status quo of making sure women cannot access abortion—no abortion clinics, abortion pills banned, Attorney General Marty Jackley threatening to prosecute people who help women leave the state to abort pregnancies.
Tobin forgets her own football analogy and admits a few sentences later that Republicans are now on defense:
HB 1169 provided clarification to protect the life of the mother and keep pro-life Republican women protected in our legislative efforts.…
…We need to hold the line against the proposed constitutional amendment in 2024 [Tobin, 2023.02.10].
Tobin doesn’t explain what she means by protecting (a defensive term) pro-life Republican women in their legislative efforts. She doesn’t explain how HB 1169 would somehow “hold the line” (a defensive term) against a constitutional amendment, which would supersede HB 1169 and South Dakota’s current abortion laws.
Let me help. What Tobin is really trying to say is this:
We’ve gone too far. We can’t defend our current near-total ban on abortion. Voters want more exceptions, and if we don’t write more exceptions into law, they’ll turn on us, elect Democrats, and restore broader access to abortion. So, South Dakota Right to Life, if you don’t want to start losing elections, get your asses back on board and back HB 1169.
But Senator Tobin can’t say that. She and other Republican women can’t say what they mean to the misogynists absolutists who’ve made their party and their political careers. They can only wimper out with silly statements like Tobin’s closing line:
We will be bringing back HB 1169 next session. The time is now [Tobin, 2023.02.10].
The time is now, the Legislature is in Session, and we’ve still got a whole month to smoke out and hoghouse, but we’re going to wait a year to try again.
Is the time now, or is the time 2024? Are we clarifying the abortion ban, or are we adding an important exception to it? Are we protecting all women, or are we protecting Republican legislators in swing districts?
Senator Tobin is suffering from the same mushmouth that has infected a lot of Democrats on the abortion issue. She’s afraid to say what she’s really thinking because the theocratic anti-abortion machine has cowed her into euphemism. It’s a slightly softer version of Big Brother’s Newspeak from 1984: deny your opponents the full use of language, and they cannot resist.
You can’t win the argument if you can’t make your point. Senator Tobin, please, break the chains and make your point.