“Last Clinic Standing” is a thoughtfully written article by Amanda Robb. She discusses the only Planned Parenthood abortion clinic left in South Dakota, putting it in the larger context of the heated abortion debate in that state. Abortions not necessary to save the life of the mother were banned on March 6, 2006. Robb looks at the abortion issue from both sides – the pro-choice and the pro-life.
Robb sets the scene for her article by describing what it takes to get a doctor to perform abortions in South Dakota: the doctors must be flown in from another state, which in this case is Minnesota. The clinic itself has been built and reinforced to discourage attacks from militant pro-lifers, though these individuals do protest at the site. Abortions are performed once a week, on Mondays. Robb describes the abortion process itself, using a matter-of-fact tone. She does not gloss over the fact that a tube is inserted in the woman’s uterus and it will be connected to a machine that will suck out the fetus. The fetus will be placed – in pieces – in a glass jar and disposed of as all medical waste.
Robb transitions to the story of Nancy, who is at the clinic to get an abortion that day. She has a 6 year old child and a slightly younger boyfriend, so it is not the right time to add a new child to the family. While many would insist that Nancy take responsibility for her choice, it seems she already has: birth control simply didn’t work for her. Leslie Unruh is a staunch supporter of abstinence (and most fascinatingly, a descendent of Laura Ingalls Wilder) and she insists that there is no excuse for an unwanted pregnancy. In her opinion, “sex creates many other ills, too—cervical cancer, bad grades, and poor female self-esteem.” Robb takes offense at this, admitting that she did sleep around and doesn’t feel those negative effects. Even so, the move to promote abstinence has President Bush’s approval and a $113 million budget.
Robb approaches this article not only from the view of a writer looking for a good story, but as a woman who can relate to the plight of the abortion doctor – her uncle Bart was a doctor who performed abortions until he was assassinated in his home. Bart’s experience with abortion – and especially repeat abortion — taught him that the real solution was to increase access to birth control and make it free to those who need it. This is the case in Denmark, which has had mandatory sex education/birth control programs in schools since 1970 and has a much lower abortion rate than the United States. Before Bart’s death, he was hounded by protesters with whom he was willing to make a deal.
He said if they would stop harassing him and his family (he particularly didn’t like them following his kids to school and asking them not to grow up to be “killers like daddy”), they could set up a table inside the clinic where he worked two days a week and pass out pro-life information.
The pro-lifers, of course, did not accept this offer. Their bottom line was that they were only willing to teach abstinence.
Robb drives into the state capital of Pierre, where she sees Representative Roger Hunt, the prime abortion opponent and sponsor of the anti-abortion bill. After listening to a lecture on abstinence, Hunt became an active crusader against abortion and plans to continue to support legislation that “chips away at Roe v. Wade”. He has no sympathy for incest victims as he insists that studies have been done that prove that the children of incest often prove to be the most intelligent in the family. He feels that taking a human life is worse than rape – one must wonder if he has ever consulted with a rape victim on this theory.
Robb understands his pro-life position, even though she doesn’t agree with it. It is her willingness to listen to all sides of the abortion debate that encourages even the most militant pro-lifer to open up to her about their views. While Robb inserts sardonic comments here and there (the aforementioned “I slept around and it didn’t hurt me” remark, for example), she writes about both sides of the argument fairly, without making the pro-life supporters appear uneducated or naïve.
Robb’s most prevalent complaint is that anyone would support not teaching contraception to sexually active teenagers. She ponders whether birth control education is more like a seat belt — “which protects me but doesn’t make me drive crazily”, or overdraft protection – “which also protects me while occasionally enticing me to spend recklessly”.
Robb ties up the article by going back to Nancy and her boyfriend, admitting that Nancy wasn’t one of the women who needed to be protected due to rape, but just due to her own bad luck. She ponders what Nancy’s options might be if the Senate bill holds and abortion is absolutely banned. Nancy would have to choose between having an illegal abortion (which she might have to perform on herself), giving up the baby, or keeping a baby who will only bring more stress into an already strained relationship. These were the only options a woman could decide between pre-Roe v. Wade.
According to CNN.com, the anti-abortion bill failed on November 7th with 148,664 votes supporting the ban on abortion and 185,934 votes to keep abortion legal. The bill failed to pass with only 56% of the vote against the bill. It is clear that South Dakota has not seen the last of anti-abortion legislation attempts. Amanda Robb’s work is far from over.