Saturday, December 17, 2005

The South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortions Report

I started reading the report issued by the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortions (via feministing). Unfortunately, I am unable to characterize for you what I've read so far; words fail me. So I will let one of the task force members do it for me:

Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, said he was upset that the report is filled with dishonest statements and is biased toward one religion....

"The report is theologically based, has patent untruths and misrepresentations, and no reasonable attention was paid to any amendments," the senator said.

Because the report is 72 pages long, and almost every paragraph contains something that needs to be corrected, debunked, and/or commented on, I plan to discuss the report in installments. Here's the first one.

First, a bit of background. At the beginning of this year, the SD legislature passed a bill (HB 1233) which created the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortions. Its main duty was to study and, most importantly, to evaluate medical evidence, report its findings, and make recommendations as to the need for any additional legislation governing medical procedures [because we can never have enough of these laws and regulations]:

Section 3. The task force shall study the practice of abortion since its legalization, the body of knowledge concerning the development and behavior of the unborn child which has developed because of technological advances and medical experience since the legalization of abortion, the societal, economic, and ethical impact and effects of legalized abortion, the degree to which decisions to undergo abortions are voluntary and informed, the effect and health risks that undergoing abortions has on the women, including the effects on the women's physical and mental health, including the delayed onset of cancer, and her subsequent life and socioeconomic experiences, the nature of the relationship between a pregnant woman and her unborn child, whether abortion is a workable method for the pregnant woman to waive her rights to a relationship with the child, whether the unborn child is capable of experiencing physical pain, whether the need exists for additional protections of the rights of pregnant women contemplating abortion, and whether there is any interest of the state or the mother or the child which would justify changing the laws relative to abortion. The task force shall prepare a report detailing its findings, which shall include any proposals for additional legislation as it may deem advisable, and submit the report to the Governor and Legislature no later than December 1, 2005.

Earlier this month the task force issued its findings. According to press reports:

After a contentious final meeting, a state task force has recommended that the Legislature take further steps to restrict abortions in South Dakota.

The majority of the task force supported a report that says the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion was flawed because scientific and other advances have since demonstrated that life begins at conception.

The 72-page draft report calls for a ban on abortion by overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the practice. In the meantime, it recommends that South Dakota should put further restrictions on abortion, such as requiring that women get additional information and counseling before having abortions.

Second, let's see what the task force chair and vice chair have to say about the report.

The assessment of Dr. Marty Allison, the self-identified "pro-life" task force chairwoman:

"It got to the point at the end that part of the task force members, as well as the vast majority of our public audience, left the meeting because it just got so ridiculous. It was an embarrassing end, to tell you the truth. I was disappointed in the process," Allison said.

More from Dr. Allison:

"The final report was authored by a few people on the task force, and it is less than completely objective and factual. It is biased and opinionated," said Dr. Marty Allison of Pierre.

Allison said she agrees with the report's call for a ban on abortion, with further restrictions on abortion in South Dakota until a ban can be accomplished. But the report does not reflect all the information that the task force gathered from experts and the public on both sides of the issue, and it does not deal with preventing unintended pregnancies and other important issues, she said.

"Even though I'm pro-life and it's a pro-life report, I couldn't support the entire document because of those reasons," Allison told The Associated Press.

"The process through which we came to the final report, through our meetings we had, I was disappointed with that. It's not reflective of all the information we spent so much time gathering," the physician said.


"The mentality of the task force was really an us-against-them mentality -- pro-life, pro-choice," Allison said.

Allison said she believes the task force should have approved a proposal requiring the report to include only rigorous scientific research that is accepted by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Gynecology and other professional organizations.

Next, we have this evaluation from the task force vice chair:

[S]everal task force members, including those who support abortion rights, walked out of a meeting Friday before the final vote. They said the majority, who oppose abortion, rejected proposals that would have helped reduce the number of abortions by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in South Dakota.


Dr. Maria Bell of Sioux Falls, vice chair of the task force, was one of the members to walk out of the meeting. She said the process was one-sided and the majority's recommendations were not supported by information collected by the panel in the past few months.

Finally, let's take a look at the members of the task force. They are:

1. Dr. Marty Allison, Chair [voted against the report's recommendations]

2. Dr. Maria Bell, Vice Chair [walked out* before the final vote]

3. Senator Stanford Adelstein (R-Rapid City) [walked out before the final vote]

4. Senator Julie Bartling (D-Burke)

5. Mr. Travis Benson, J.D., Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls

6. Mr. David Day, J.D., University of South Dakota law professor

7. Senator Jay Duenwald (R-Hoven), an officer in both the state and National Right To Life organizations

8. Senator Brock Greenfield (R-Clark)

9. Ms. Linda Holcomb MSW, Rapid City therapist, divorce professional

10. Representative Roger Hunt (R-Brandon)

11. Representative Elizabeth Kraus (R-Rapid City)

12. Ms. Kate Looby, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota/South Dakota Director

13. Representative Kathy Miles (D-Sioux Falls)

14. Senator Theresa Two Bulls (D-Pine Ridge)

15. Dr. John Stransky

16. Dr. Allen Unruh

17. Dr. David Wachs

[*Please note that I couldn't find a complete list of members who walked out, so it's possible there were more.]

So out of 17 members, only 4 are medical doctors, and one is a chiropractor. Moreover, of the 4 physicians, only one is an Ob/Gyn [you know, the specialty whose members are trained and experienced in routinely performing abortions]:

- Dr. Marty L. Allison, Pediatrician

- Dr. Maria Bell, gynecologic Oncologist (cancer specialist)

- Dr. John Stransky, Family Practitioner

- Dr. Allen Unruh, Chiropractor

Of note:

Dr. Unruh and his wife, Leslee, are the founders of the Alpha Center - a crisis pregnancy center in Sioux Falls - serving over 5000 clients per year.

[We'll come back to this, as this conflict of interest becomes significant when we look at the report's recommendations.]

One more thing about Dr. Unruh. From the Thomas More Law Center, a not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life, whose purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith:

Leslee Unruh, a member of Right to Life for 25 years, and Director of the South Dakota Alpha Health Center, an abortion counseling service, whose husband helped start local Right to Life chapters throughout the state...

- Dr. David Wachs, Family Practitioner and 20-year member of an organization (the Aberdeen Area Right to Life) whose basic stated goal is to stop abortion.

Why are Dr. Unruh's and Dr. Wachs' anti-abortion advocacy, biases, and organizational affiliations significant (as well as those of Senator Jay Duenwald, for that matter)?

After all holding a particular set of personal or religious beliefs, whatever those might be, does not disqualify someone from serving on a scientifically-oriented task force. No, but being a closed-minded dogmatic does. If you are either unwilling, or unable to recognize, acknowledge and deal with reality, you have no place on a task force charged with evaluating medical matters. But I digress. Let's limit ourselves to the task force's words and actions for the answer to our question.

The members of the task force judge the credibility of witnesses, and the quality of their research based on the witnesses' admitted biases and the organizational goals of [their] employer. Advocating for reproductive choice and belonging to an activist organization that opposes all abortion regulation are the basis for judging a witness' opinions suspect and his research not credible.

From page 51 of the report (emphasis mine):

Dr. Stanley Henshaw also provided testimony on the physical and mental health effects of abortion. He is an advocate for reproductive choice and his employer is an activist organization that opposes all abortion regulations. He has been Deputy Director of Research for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a Planned Parenthood special affiliate which is partially funded by Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Task Force finds his opinions suspect and his research not credible due to his admitted biases and the organizational goals of his employer.

Again, according to the task force, the criteria used to judge credibility and competence are admitted biases and organizational affiliations. Not relevant education or profession. Not scientific fact. Not study methodology, or any of the other scientifically rigorous, established, and accepted criteria.

So what's the problem with [at a minimum] Drs. Unruh and Wachs, and Senator Jay Duenwald? According to the task force's own criteria, since they are advocates for lack of reproductive choice and members of activist organizations that support regulating abortion out of existence, with the admitted bias of stopping abortion, they are neither credible, nor competent. As such, they have no place on a task force to study abortions.

That's it for today. As soon as my neurons recover from the shock of reading through the report, I'll have more. But before I go, allow me to give you my general impression on what is currently going on in South Dakota: rampant malicious scoundrels are in charge.


At 2:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this post via Feministe... well done. I just finished reading the report myself, and had a similar reaction. My brain hurts. I'll be checking back for the further updates... the report was easy enough to critique from a rhetorical/analytic standpoint, but I'm certainly interested to see what an ob/gyn has to say about what I'm sure is bad science, in addition to their bad logic.

At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this page on Google; I did a search because last night my local news channel featured a story on SD's abortion report.

As a woman and a South Dakota resident, I find this downright terrifying. It's becoming harder and harder to voice a liberal view regarding abortion in South Dakota. Thank you for providing information.

At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So much for any freedom of choice. Unless your me or my doctor, keep your nose out of my body choices. I don't tell you how to care for your body...don't tell/impose laws on mine.
Anne O'Hanley
Washington state

At 7:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leslee Unruh is a pro-woman woman. Way to rise above the fray, Leslee; America's women deserve better than the exploitation and abuse that is abortion.

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leslee Unruh lives a multimillion dollar lifestyle. She can jolly well afford to have a baby every year. So, let's give up abortion and put all the unwanted babies on HER doorstep and the doorstep of the Catholic churches she was raised by her Baptist mom to hate so badly until they sided with her in her battle to live other people's lives for them!

She has plenty of skeletons in her closet so let's hear about them, beginning with her cousin, convicted rapist Shawn Bonrud!

Leslee doesn't know the difference between a baby and a fetus. She got her abortion when she wanted it and plenty of sex along with it. Now that she doesn't need either anymore, no one else is supposed to claim their own right. She reminds me of Nancy Reagan. "Just say no to drugs, alcohol and premarital sex!" Nancy had her first kid 2 months after she married Ronnie Roundworm! About the same time Pat Robertson's wife had to get used to being a wife before she became a mother.

Grow up, Leslee. Admit you're trying to hide your own self in the supposed guilt of someone else.

At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It always makes me sad when I see women fighting "pro-life".

1. The first problem I have with Pro life is, YES maybe its giving the unborn foetus a life, but it may be ruining the womans. Why is it more important?

2. Its MY fucking body, and if I dont want to have a baby I wont because the state doesnt like it.

3. Its going to happen anyway if people arnt ready for a child then they will go down back streets to do it. Not that this is a good argument but its the truth.

4. Because the foetus's brain is not properly developed, during the earlier weeks there is no way, and no evidence to show that the thing feels any pain or is concious of anything.

5. If the woman has the baby, and it was concieved in rape, or incest or has mental problems. Will the babies life be that great anyway. If your mum hated you because you were a product and a reminder of a horrible horrific incident. ( the rape)

6. Shuttup, if you dont like abortions DONT HAVE ONE. But let other people make their own fucking mind up - you bitch leslee Unruh. You cant say a woman cant have an abortion because YOU dont think its right. Who crowned you " miss always rigth appointed by god 2006"

Pro life makes me Angry


At 5:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It always amazes me how women like you say abortion hurts all women. Are you kidding me??? I felt nothing but ABSOLUTE RELIEF when I had both of mine! Sure, I guess there are women out there feel guilt, shame, remorse, whatever. But I for one, did not feel ANY of that. I had these abortions in my early 20s, and I am now 40 years old, and to this day I feel nothing but relief that I had them done. Plenty of women know that you're doing nothing but pushing a crock of shit.

At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regardless of what side I am on, I find it very difficult to listen to people from a logical standpoint when they use curse words. Even though I may agree with someone, it makes me disrespect them as a whole when they choose to deviate from a logical standpoint and to begin attacking a person's life. It is called an Ad Hominen argument, or even a partial Red Herring. They are logical fallacies. I don't agree with her Cousins action (referring to the rapist) but I find it impossible to judge someone based on someone else's actions, regardless of them being related or not.


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