Pick an issue in the public domain. Almost nothing sets more teeth on edge and gets more people riled up than abortion. Doesn’t matter where you stand on the issue, chances are you have a more than passing association with a hardline stance.
Just mention the word in any comments thread or conversation and watch everything unravel in the blink of an eye. For most, there simply is no middle ground. And that’s why South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley just made a decision that will make her state ground zero for the abortion debate in coming months.
According to the Associated Press, Haley signed legislation Wednesday that immediately outlaws most abortions in South Carolina at 20 weeks beyond fertilization. The only allowed exceptions are if the mother’s life is in jeopardy or a doctor determines the fetus can’t survive outside the womb.
The law comes complete with punitive financial damages as well. While mothers are not open to prosecution, doctors who perform abortions outside the guidelines face up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each violation. Prison is mandatory on a third conviction.
Roe v. Wade, the SCOTUS decision that legalized abortion also expressly allowed states to limit or restrict abortions after “viability.” It is in this area that most of the public relations debates and challenges have come since the landmark ruling.
For supporters of the ban, this move is a shift in the right direction and a template for other states to follow. They consider it a battle won in a war long from over that they intend to continue fighting. The SC bill’s sponsor, Rep. Wendy Nanney, said the law is a step toward “getting rid of abortion altogether.”
For opponents of the ban, this legislation strips away a fundamental right. Their response will be no less strident or vociferous. Alyssa Miller, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman in South Carolina, told the AP “The reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available…”
Clearly, to Miller and those in her camp, this restriction is unacceptable. And that’s where the battle lines are really drawn. While most laws are written in the nebulous middle ground, the war is really being fought to either completely legalize or completely ban abortion. This makes any messaging campaign problematic, especially if advocates are speaking to more centrist voters who might lean one way or the other.