S.D. Abortion Doctors Must Say: You're Ending A Life A new law in South Dakota requires doctors performing abortions to explain that the procedure would end the life of a human being. Slate.com's Will Saletan discusses the new law.
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S.D. Abortion Doctors Must Say: You're Ending A Life

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S.D. Abortion Doctors Must Say: You're Ending A Life

S.D. Abortion Doctors Must Say: You're Ending A Life

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This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, we travel to the far Canadian north and one remote Inuit village for the ultimate throw down, tradition versus the Internet.

BRAND: First, though, starting this Friday in South Dakota, a doctor asked to perform an abortion will have to say this to the pregnant woman: "Abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." The woman would also have to be told that her abortion may cause psychological harm, including thoughts of suicide. A federal appeals court recently upheld that South Dakota law. Slate.com's Will Saletan is here, and he's also written a book about the abortion laws. Hi Will.

Mr. WILL SALETAN (Slate, Author " Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War"): Hey Madeleine, how are you?

BRAND: Fine, thank you. Will, Planned Parenthood had objected to this law, saying that it basically forces doctors to say things they may not think are true, or that these things are more ideological than indeed factual, but the court did not agree with that. Why not?

Mr. SALETAN: Well, the court decided that the statement was not ideological since there was some biology behind that. It's a claim not about whether the embryo was a person, but about whether it's a human being, and about whether certain biological statements apply to it, and therefore it was not forcing ideological speech on doctors.

BRAND: Still, that term human being, and when life starts, that is intensely debated.

Mr. SALETAN: Yes. It's really hard to figure out what the term human being means, if it's not intended to have some sort of moral weight. I mean, think about it, the entire point of this law is to discourage women from having abortions. Frankly, you can't do that with medical information, so you have to either slant the medical information, or present it selectively, or tint it a little bit in a moral way. And, you know, it's really hard to see how you'll accomplish that objective without making an ideological statement.

BRAND: Now, what about the First Amendment rights here. Is it possible? Can, legally, a state force a doctor to say something that this doctor may not want to say?

Mr. SALETAN: Well, yes. Doctors may object to things that the state says they should say. There's an open question then, as to whether the statement is somehow medically inaccurate, or not. The really interesting question to me is, what happens when a doctor does, with this kind of moral or ideological statement, the same thing that a doctor might do with some medical information that the doctor has a disagreement with? That is to say, the doctor will say, yes, you know, there are studies that have said such and such; yes, you've heard that on television or what not. But my professional opinion is, that's bogus. Can the doctor do that in this case? We really don't know what's going to happen until a doctor gets brought in for doing that.

BRAND: South Dakota has a ballot initiative on the November ballot that would essentially outlaw most abortions, except in the cases of rape or incest, or the life of the mother. And they tried this before a couple of years ago; it failed. Why is South Dakota so keen on anti-abortion rules and laws?

Mr. SALETAN: I don't know, state to state. There are certain states that are just known. If you are a pro-life political strategist, these are the states where you can bring the most aggressive kinds of legislation. Louisiana is one, South Dakota is another. They simply have a more receptive population or legislature. Polling data is used, legislative scorecards are used, to assess what are the best places to bring these. But you know, South - you can just count on it that South Dakota will be one of the pioneering states, whenever there is a new kind of legislation, and that is why it is a very good place to watch if you care about this issue, and you're looking for what is the next kind of legislation coming down the pike.

BRAND: And are people looking at it as a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade?

Mr. SALETAN: Oh, yes. The ballot measure is a frontal attack on Roe v. Wade. I mean, there is just no way to square a wholesale abortion ban, with a tiny little exception for rape, with the principal of legal abortion. And that's a bet that there will be five votes on the Supreme Court at some point, when that ballot measure comes before the court to overturn Roe. V. Wade. There's just no way to square the two.

BRAND: Thanks Will.

Mr. SALETAN: Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: That's Will Saletan, he writes for Slate.com. He's also the author of the book "Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War".

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Do you ever feel like you need to tell the world what you think? Well you can. You can go to our blog. It's a blog dedicated to exploring all aspects of today's crazy economy. Go to npr.org/daydreaming.

CHADWICK: Hey, wait a minute. I want to talk about our slideshow, the Day to Day Daydreaming slideshow on cars that was up yesterday.

BRAND: Oh, gosh! You have to go there and see our listeners, and some amazing cars.

CHADWICK: Right! These are from you. From listeners who sent in pictures of their cars and little stories about how they feel about their cars.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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