In which I relate South Dakota to China
Why are South Dakota lawmakers willing to take a forceful and risky position on abortion, but refuse to take bold steps by pursuing strong trade relations with China?
This is a tale of two places: South Dakota, where I was born and raised in the American West, and China, my current place of residence and ipso facto home. It is also a tale of two policies: one, supporting economic development, and the other, opposing abortion rights. This story doesn’t have a happy ending, so if that bothers you, go ahead and stop reading now.
Today I read this article in the New York Times, which reports on the ballot initiative about to be put to vote in South Dakota:
The South Dakota ban was passed by the Legislature in February but was pushed to a statewide vote by opponents. If the law survives, it would become a felony for a doctor in South Dakota to perform abortions except to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.
This bill received national media attention last January and February as it was considered and passed. And now, as a ballot issue, its divisive force is again being felt as national lobbying groups attempt to turn the tide one way or another with millions of dollars of out-of-state money.
I, too, was watching the SD state legislature closely during last Jan and Feb, but for another reason: A week or two before this sweeping ban on abortions hit the media, House Bill No. 1055 was introduced —”An Act to appropriate money for trade representation in China, and to declare an emergency.” I was excited to hear about this policy through the (very long) grapevine, a move to fund a modest office for trade representation on behalf of SD businesses seeking to enter the China market.
And then, the abortion bill dropped a bomb on the state and whatever small media attention had been paid to the China bill evaporated in a moment. The policy was extreme in the extreme: it carried no exceptions for rape or incest, a doctor could only legally perform an abortion if the life of the mother was at immediate risk.
The whole country watched as Rep. Bill Napoli went on PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and explained the way this played out in practice:
A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
With headlines like these in the state media, it is not a surprise that no one paid much attention when the SD state senate quietly stripped the word “China” from HB 1055. The bill’s sense of purpose was completely sacrificed. In its place, our legislature gave us a policy that advocates spending a very modest sum to, apparently, shower the world with SD trade cooperation offices. According to a number of state news sources, senators were too afraid of offending other foreign trade partners by prioritizing a strong trade relationship with China.
At the time (link is dead and gone now), the Sioux Falls Argus Leader quoted David Owen, president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce, with the following perspective:
“China is to this discussion is what Chuck E. Cheese’s is to my 5-year-old,” he said. “I can talk about other places to go to dinner all I want, but I know we’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.”
Nearly a year later, the abortion policy forcefully pursued by the SD state legislature is STILL a lightning rod for negative national and international media attention. It is still widely opposed, including among many opponents of abortion. And the time and money spent on this issue by the SD government (and therefore the taxpayers) is mounting each day.
According to statistics from the national Bureau of Economic Analysis, South Dakota’s state economy ranks 47th in the nation. I am shocked and horrified that the SD legislature will get behind this ridiculous abortion bill and fight, but was and is too afraid to commit itself to a strong trade relationship with China, a country with over a billion consumers where demand for high quality beef, high quality scoreboards, and many other South Dakota products has literally skyrocketed, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Most South Dakotan businesspeople have no idea how to tap into this huge market, nor do they have the luxury, as I did, of moving here to learn. HB1055 may have actually done something positive for someone in SD, I can guarantee you that this abortion crap won’t do anything positive for anyone.
Because of the general irrelevance of this blog to SD issues, my guess is that the readership back home is not large. That being said, however, I hope that all Americans who are heading to vote next Tuesday take the time to look at what issues their leaders are willing to fight on, and what issues they let slip. This is how the quality of a political representative should be measured.