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April 13, 2007

The Last Clinic Standing

A Crime Punishable By Law

Abortion Clinics in South Dakota

Photo Credit: Andrew Hetherington

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Upon arriving in Pierre, I'm surprised to find state Rep. Roger Hunt, 68, prime sponsor of the abortion-ban bill, in a capitol room chock-full of massage therapists. It seems the state legislature recently passed a law requiring insurance for masseurs, and many don't think that's fair. Hunt gently admonishes them not to cast aspersions so wantonly.

By trade, Hunt is a business and contracts lawyer; serving in South Dakota's legislature is a part-time gig and only pays $6000 a year. He entered politics after retiring from the Navy with no agenda beyond "doing a little good." He got involved in fighting abortion when "some ladies" came to talk to him about abstinence in the early 1990s. Over the past 16 years, Hunt has introduced and supported legislation that, as he puts it, "chips away at Roe v. Wade"-with waiting periods and parental/spousal notification-and launched full-frontal assaults on the right to choose.

Because it's true, tell him that I understand his pro-life position. But I can't fathom why anyone-even people who think virginity until marriage is a worthwhile goal-would support a law that says sex education "may not [discuss] contraceptive drugs or methods" and requires telling students that "engaging in unlawful sexual activity may be a crime punishable by law." In a country where about 80 percent of people have sex before age 20-while the average marital age is 26-such legislation seems downright idiotic. But Hunt thinks teaching teens about birth control is society's way of saying "yes" to fornication, and that if we just stopped talking about sex to kids, a lot of them would quit having it. "When I was a teen," I tell Hunt, "I remember thinking, if I could just stop daydreaming about sex, I'd get so much done. Don't you remember that feeling? "No," he says. Hunt also believes the self-discipline of not having sex translates into the self-discipline of not doing drugs, not becoming involved in crime, and not dropping out of school. He is not alone.

Between 1994 and 2001, the federally funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health tracked over 14,000 American teens. The survey found that 21 percent of sexually active teens dropped out of high school, compared to just 8 percent of virgins. Outside America, however, these stats don't hold up: As many teenage Danes have intercourse as teenage Americans, yet their high-school graduation rate is 13 percent higher. And since 1975, Denmark has reduced its abortion rate by 40 percent; ours has increased more than 20 percent. What's the difference? Mainly, that sex education has been compulsory in Danish schools for 36 years, and birth control and emergency contraception (EC) are cheap and easy to get without a prescription: You walk into a drugstore, pay a nominal fee, and don't become pregnant.

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