You can’t say our General Assembly hasn’t been busy lately. In one week they banned gay marriage, voted to display religious icons in public places, and the House passed a suddenly infamous bill — H.3355 — that would punish women seeking abortion by forcing them to view ultrasound images of the fetus.
What our fearless solons didn’t do was address South Carolina’s standing as having the worst education system in the nation; being the sixth most violent state; being second in highway fatalities; 37th in individual income; and 15th in the percentage of our people living in poverty. South Carolina has the third shortest life expectancy in the nation. How will hanging the Ten Commandments in the State House fix any of these vast failings?
For many people, the greatest shock of the week was learning that Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-District 119) voted to impede a woman’s right to abortion with the mandatory viewing of the ultrasound.
Many of us had looked to Stavrinakis — or Leon, as he is known to his many friends and supporters — as a breath of fresh air when he was elected to the State House last November. Certainly he is many measures superior to the racist, homophobic ass he replaced. But in the first real test of his mettle on an important moral issue, Stavrinakis failed.
What is almost as distressing is the way he did it. In an e-mail addressed to constituent Kristen French, two days before the vote, he wrote very succinctly: “H.3355 will not have my support.” Yet, when the moment of truth came, the ultrasound bill did have Stavrinakis’ vote. This led to an e-mail exchange in which French unloaded on the assemblyman and Stavrinakis tried to explain himself. In one e-mail he wrote: “I changed my mind several times on the bill. Like I said it was tough.”
Apparently French wasn’t the only one expressing her displeasure with Stavrinakis. Responding to another critic, he wrote, “I … want to say that I was a bit surprised by the intensity of the backlash over H.3355. There really was not much of a lobbying effort by anyone opposed to the bill. I got a few random e-mails but nothing like the intensity of those supporting it. Then suddenly after the vote I am deluged with angry e-mails.”
I spoke with Rep. Stavrinakis by phone after the dust had settled on H.3355. He said he had received “literally hundreds” of e-mails in support of the bill before the vote. “The lobbying was all in one direction.”
He said he was “comforted” by the fact that abortion clinics are run by people who support a woman’s right to choose, and hence they would not use the image of the fetus to “torture” a woman.
“This vote and its aftermath are the hardest things I’ve been through in my nine years of public service,” he said.
Welcome to the big league, Leon.
Of course, nothing would have changed if Stavrinakis had voted his original conviction. The fetal ultrasound bill passed 91-23. The shocker was the sense of betrayal that many supporters felt in having this decent Democratic moderate side with the Christian Right on a reproductive choice issue. The take-home lesson here is that we have to sound off to our elected officials before critical votes are cast. There is little glory in catching them in their contorted excuses and explanations after the fact.
As for Leon, I am willing to give him a mulligan on this one. He is new to the job and just learning how the game is played. But he should understand that this vote was about much more than abortion protocol in South Carolina. It’s about the Christian Right’s unremitting effort to take away women’s reproductive rights, to keep women barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.
Of course, these Jesus-loving hypocrites will tell you they are trying to protect unborn children, but you know it’s a lie. The Christian Right and the Republicans in the General Assembly don’t give a damn about children. If they did, our kids would not go to the worst schools, on the oldest, most dangerous school buses in the nation. Our state would not be ranked 42nd in overall well-being of children, according to the annual Kids Count survey. We wouldn’t have the fourth highest rate of low-birth-weight babies and the sixth highest infant mortality rate.
Leon, you didn’t get where you are by hanging around with the Christian goons who drew up this dreadful bill. And I predict you won’t stay there long if you start changing colors to blend in. There are other critical women’s rights votes coming up soon. When you sit there with your finger on the button to cast your vote, remember who brung you to the dance.
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