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S.D. Church backs initiative to limit abortion

Editor’s note: The following provides information in a question-and-answer format regarding the position of the Diocese of Rapid City with regard to a petition to place on the November 2008 ballot a proposed initiative titled “An act to protect the lives of unborn children, and the interests and health of pregnant mothers by prohibiting abortions except in cases where the mother’s life or health is at risk, and in cases of rape and incest.”

According to the petition, doctors who perform an abortion outside the proposed law’s conditions could be charged with a Class 4 felony, which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, reported the Rapid City Journal newspaper.

What does this proposed law do?

This initiative is designed to protect the lives of unborn children, and the interests and health of pregnant mothers, by prohibiting abortions except in cases where the mother’s life or health is at risk, and in cases of rape and incest.

How will these exceptions be interpreted?

The proposed law has measures to ensure accountability. Sections 5-8 of the initiative clearly define that a woman who indicates she has been raped or is the victim of incest must report the crime prior to seeking an abortion. The abortion clinic has the responsibility of making sure that the proper authorities are provided a complete report, including the woman’s name and contact information, and the details regarding the rape or act of incest and the perpetrator. Further, the abortion clinic must obtain the woman’s consent to collect evidence from the abortion for DNA analysis and within 24 hours make arrangements to provide the sample to authorities. The abortion clinic is also responsible for providing counseling referrals to the victim.

Moreover, the health clause is defined in precise terms so that it cannot be misconstrued broadly beyond a person’s physical integrity. Section 4 of the initiative offers a clarification regarding the health risk. It is a “...serious risk of a substantial and irreversible impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ or system of the pregnant woman should the pregnancy be continued and which risk could be prevented through an abortion, unless in reaching that judgment the physician knowingly disregards accepted standards of medical practice.”

Can we morally support a law that does not protect all of the unborn?

Admittedly, this initiative is not perfect, as it does not completely protect all unborn life. Such an initiative failed in 2006, with only 44 percent of voters favoring an end to abortion in all cases. However, polling indicates that a strong majority of South Dakotans are in favor of ending abortion as a means of birth control and that they would support an abortion ban that allows exceptions in cases of rape and incest and when the life and the health of the mother are at serious risk. Clearly, this proposal is a serious attempt to significantly limit the number of lives lost through abortion.

Surely, one can oppose an imperfect law in good conscience on the grounds that it does not reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life due to the presence of exceptions. The ultimate and preferred goal is to defend the right to life for all the unborn against the violence of abortion. However, a gradualist approach is also a responsible and justifiable way of proceeding. This involves passing a law to prohibit some abortions in view of what is presently possible, to be followed by further incremental steps that increasingly are more effective in protecting unborn human beings.

Pope John Paul II advocated such a position in The Gospel of Life. He wrote that whenever it is impossible to overturn or abrogate all laws permitting abortion, it is licit to support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such laws. Such support for a limited outcome is not a form of cooperation with an unjust law, but rather, as John Paul II reminds us, is a legitimate attempt to limit its evil aspects (cf. paragraph 73).

Does this proposed law have a reasonable chance of success?

Yes. More than a dozen attorneys, including the attorney general of South Dakota, came together to write this initiative to ensure that it contained the strongest language that can be protected in a court of law.


This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The West River Catholic (, official newspaper of the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D.



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