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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Basketball Parents Display March Madness

As western South Dakota digs out from under its biggest snowstorm of the season thus far (now that it's spring, it only seems reasonable to expect bigger snowstorms), I would like to note a travel alert issued by the state Department of Public Safety over the weekend. With the snowstorm bearing down on Rapid City, site of the State AA Boys Basketball Tournament, the Department of Public Safety paid special attention to all the teenage fans traveling to and from the event. The agency urged parents whose children had driven to Rapid City for the tournament to contact their kids and tell them to stay put until the storm had blown over and the roads were clear.

Now understand that I appreciate such concern from our state government for the safety of our youth. But wait a minute: who are these parents who let their kids drive unchaperoned across the state with a big blizzard on the way? Wouldn't a better travel alert have been in order before the tournament, telling parents that letting their kids drive alone 300+ miles into a winter storm watch area (not to mention to a state tournament for 2-3 days without any adult supervision) is a bad idea?

Such a travel alert tells a lot about South Dakota culture. Every year kids at Montrose, the school I teach at, take off for the State B tournaments whether Montrose is playing in them or not (we made the State 9B football tournament last season for the first time since the 1980s). They go not to watch the games but to drink and trash hotel rooms. And parents seem perfectly accepting of behavior. Our school board even schedules the Fridays of the state basketball and football tournaments as days off to facilitate our students' participation in this parentally approved, state-sponsored bacchanalia.

As far as I know, all the kids got home o.k., and the Rapid City economy turned a nice profit on hotels, restaurants, and various consumables. Thank goodness we have the state to remind parents to call their kids with parental advice but not get in the way of a good time.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Abortion Ban? Why Not Free Delivery?

Yesterday Governor Mike Rounds signed South Dakota's abortion ban into law, bringing great joy to all those spoiling for a Supreme Court fight. The law will also bring happiness to those activists eager for the chance to stand on busy street corners and shout their mindless chant "Live baby good, dead baby bad." (Reminds me of the sheep bleating "Four legs good! Two legs bad!" to disrupt the political speeches in Animal Farm.)

Now this abortion ban won't amount to much. It will make various self-righteous evangelicals feel good about their commitment to the moral cause. When the law ges struck down by the Supreme Court, the defeat will reinforce the illusory sense of oppression and martyrhood that evangelicals apparently find so vital to their sense of identity. However, the ban will not save a single baby. Kate Looby of South Dakota Planned Parenthood hass her lawsuit against the ban in her back pocket, and she will file it well before July 1 to block the law from coming into effect. Even if the law somehow does pass Constitutional muster (and South Dakota's lawmakers, along with the anonymous donors kicking in the money to help defray the costs of the impending court battle), it will only drive abortions out of the state. The estimated 800 women who have abortions in South Dakota each year already have to drive all the way to either Sioux Falls or Rapid City for the procedure; it's not a big step for them to drive to the next closest abortion clinic in Minnesota or North Dakota. (Where a young woman out in Faith will have to drive, I hate to think -- Bismarck? Cheyenne? Sheridan? Billings?)

But while we wait for the next shoe (the lawsuit) to drop, it occurs to me that South Dakota could go for the one-two punch in terms of making a stand for live babies. South Dakota could demonstrate its genuine commitment to the value of life by offering free delivery of every baby born in South Dakota. If babies really are the most precious thing in the world, shouldn't we as a state put our money where our mouth is? Consider that somewhere out there some self-righteous Bible-thumper is willing to put up a million dollars to help defend the abortion ban in court. (Funny how people following the word of Jesus, the poor itinerant carpenter, manage to find the time to get so rich.) Instead of throwing that one million dollars at the handful of lawyers who will profit from this fight, the anonymous donor could donate that one million dollars to Sioux Valley Hospital to cover the costs of the next 300 deliveries. That would allow 300 families to save over $3000 each, money they could apply toward their pre-natal and post-natal care; toward buying warm clothes, sturdy car seats, and child gates; and toward generally increasing the health, safety, and comfort of their new child. That step alone would do more for the welfare of real live babies in South Dakota than the abortion ban ever will.

Besides, in pure economic terms, "Free Delivery" would more than make up for the business South Dakota will lose from abortion seekers heading to Minnesota or Wyoming for the procedure. Young parents would flock across the border to Sioux Falls, Yankton, Rapid City, and Aberdeen to have their babies delivered for free. They'd quite likely come here then for their pre- and post-natal care (a boost for the economy). While they were here, the new parents would surely pick up some groceries and lots of baby items (another boost for the economy). Some young parents might be so impressed with the Free Delivery policy and the socially enlightened state government that would pass it that they would choose to relocate here (and the young-parent demographic is exactly the one we need to permanently boost our economy).

Free Delivery would do much more to help real live babies than the abortion ban ever will. But the Christian Right isn't interested in real solvency. They're interested in making statements that make themselves feel good, regardless of the real-world impacts. They don't want to step out of their comfort zone and enter into a genuine Christian relationship of community with the women and poor children who really need help to make it into and through the world.