Monday, October 23, 2006

Struck Dumb

(This was written Friday.)

I got a copy of the VoteYes postcard this morning, the one I posted about yesterday. When I showed it to a friend of mine, her eyes immediately welled up and she said, "So. They're just lying, then."

It's hard to explain this sense of betrayal, particularly when it involves the opposing side of a political fight. But still, you hope that the other side will show some integrity, that the battle will be, if not civil, then at least based on the truth as each side tells it.

But what's worse today is that I'm beginning to realize, in small glimpses, that there really is very little justice.

I called the Attorney General's office this morning. I was connected to a lawyer. I read her the postcard, specifically the language "women have the option of terminating pregnancies." I even pointed out that in the next paragraph, the postcard explains that women can take EC to "prevent conception." And I said that for VoteYes to say that the ban allowed women to terminate pregnancies was a blatant misrepresentation of the ban.

But the lawyer I spoke with told me, "that's a matter of opinion."

And I said, "but their use of the language, their statement about terminating a pregnancy followed by the paragraph about preventing conception makes clear that these two are not the same. If you are preventing conception, then you cannot possibly be simultaneously terminating a pregnancy. They are talking about two different things here, and one of them is flat out wrong."

And she said, "it's a matter of freedom of speech."

And I said, "but it's a class 2 misdemeanor to publish false or erroneous information on a law during an election, according to South Dakota Codified Law 12-13-16."

And she said, "I think that's a matter of interpretation."

Next, I called the Secretary of State's office and spoke with Kea Warne, the Election Supervisor. I read her the language of the postcard and said I was concerned because the information was false and I was sure it was illegal.

She said, "yes, that's a class 2 misdemeanor."* But, she said, her office couldn't investigate it, and I should call the Attorney General's office or local law enforcement.

So I called the State's Attorney's office. I again read the postcard and a portion of the law. I said explained that "terminating pregnancy" was clearly not allowed in the ban.

Dave Nelson said, "eye of the beholder."

So I said, "do you mean that people have different beliefs about whether or not EC is an abortifacient?" [EXPLANATION: In about 5% of cases, it is estimated, EC prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. Since the moment of implantation is the moment that, according to science, pregnancy begins, EC thus prevents pregnancy. Most of the time, however, EC prevents the egg and sperm from coming together by toughening the walls of the egg so that it can't be penetrated, by making cervical mucous "hostile" so as not to allow sperm to reach the egg, or by preventing ovulation altogether.]

He said, "yes."

And I said, "but when they say 'terminating pregnancy,' it's pretty clear that what they mean is abortion. To most people, "terminating pregnancy" means abortion. And further, the ban explicitly states that no women can have abortions unless they are at risk of death. So their statement is false, and willfully so."

And he said, "I am reluctant to bring the force of the State of South Dakota to bear in a public debate. That's a very serious thing. I am confident that the other side will be able to get their message out."

So I asked, "has there ever been a case in which this law, which criminalizes lying about a proposed amendment or question or law that is referred to voters, has been applied?"

And he said, "not as far as I'm aware."

So we have a law that forbids this behavior, yet we don't enforce it because it might jeopardize public debate. And, in truth, I can see his point: State intervention in this kind of issue could set a dangerous precedent.

But doesn't it also set a dangerous precedent to allow people to purposely misrepresent their own legislation in order to mislead voters into voting their way?

As I was told more than once today, I can always write a letter to the editor.


*I don't know if Warne was agreeing that the postcard was in violation of the law or if she was simply stating that, if it were in violation of the law, it would be a class 2 misdemeanor. In any case, at least she was familiar with the law - unlike the lawyer in the Attorney General's office.


Anonymous said...

I know it seems hopeless, even silly, to write a letter to the editor, but I can't describe the hopelessness I felt today when I read the Voices section in the Argus and saw only that way less than half of the letters printed about the abortion ban were against the ban. I want to believe that it's because that's a representative sample of the letters the paper actually received (although I certainly can't prove it and that may sound naive). If Pro-Choice people stop writing letters because we no longer believe in the newspaper as a public forum, how can our voices be adequately represented.

Plain(s)feminist said...

True. This is a different issue than the one I was thinking of - I don't think LTEs are the answer to people not doing their jobs and preventing blatant lying about legislative questions. But it's important. We should all be writing.

Re. why the letters were pro-ban - I don't know what to believe anymore about what the Argus Leader is doing. So I guess I am one of those who has stopped believing in the paper as a public forum - which doesn't excuse me from the job of writing LTEs.

Kelsey said...

Of course, the Argus would actually have to publish the letters you submit for that to work. I'm going to keep trying, but they completely ignored the No on C letter Royce submitted after they endorsed it. I think I'm going to resubmit that...

The whole thing seems so hopeless. When they just lie and lie and lie and no one with authority will call them on it, what can you do???