Saturday, March 16, 2013

News out of "rural" states

I have often objected to media labeling entire states "rural," but I couldn't help think in those terms upon seeing several recent news reports out of the Dakotas and Arkansas.  State legislatures in all of the states are making decisions that reflect what might be commonly thought of as "rural culture." Specifically, I am thinking about stasis, religion, and guns.

Both North Dakota and Arkansas have recently passed extremely restrictive abortion laws--laws that almost certainly run afoul of the U. S. Constitution.  In the case of North Dakota, which passed its law just yesterday, the law could ban abortions after just six weeks of gestation.  The law bans abortions after a fetal heart beat is detectable, and that mark is at about six weeks if a vaginal ultrasound is used.  To avoid the controversy related to the timing of fetal heartbeat, the new Arkansas law bans abortions after the 12-week mark and does not reference fetal heartbeat.  As for the South Dakota law, that state legislature recently authorized school employees to have guns, though the ultimate decision is left to the school district.

The NYTimes articles reporting on these laws tend to invoke rural culture in explaining their passage.  Regarding the South Dakota law, John Eligon writes:
South Dakota is a state with deep roots in hunting, where children start learning how to shoot BB guns when they are 8, skeet shoot with shotguns by age 14 and enter target shooting contests with .22-caliber semiautomatic rifles. 
“Our kids start hunting here when they’re preteens,” said Kevin Jensen, who supports the bill and is the vice president of the Canton School Board in South Dakota. “We know guns. We respect guns.”
The story about the Arkansas abortion law, which had been in the news for weeks when it finally passed, in part because the governor kept using his veto to stop it, has focused a great deal on the role of religion.  Here's an excerpt on the most recent story, focusing on Jason Rapert, the bill's sponsor:
Mr. Rapert, who runs an investment firm and a Christian missionary society, preached at local churches before the election, sometimes entertaining worshipers by playing “Amazing Grace” on his fiddle.
An earlier story about the Arkansas law closed with this, focusing on how these developments make Arkansas look on the national stage:
“It sets Arkansas back several decades in the eyes of the nation and the world,” said Rita Sklar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. “It shows an utter disregard for women and their ability to make important personal decisions about their own reproductive health.”
 The story about the North Dakota law does not mention rural culture, but it does note how limited access to abortion already is in the state:
In 2011, according to state data, 1,247 abortions were performed in North Dakota. If the ban becomes law, more than 75 percent of the procedures could be outlawed, according to Elizabeth Nash, a state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute in Washington, a research group that supports abortion rights.
I have done extensive analysis of abortion access in rural places here, also critiquing how the U.S. Supreme Court has viewed rural women in relation to abortion access.

For the record, using the U.S. Census Bureau definition, 45% of North Dakota's population is rural, while the figure for South Dakota is 48%, and the figure for Arkansas is 46%.

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