Two friends, two opinionsby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
The debate over abortion has been going on for more than 30 years. In South Dakota, voters will have a say in November whether abortion should be banned. Legislators passed a bill that outlaws nearly all abortions in the state. Republican Gov. Mike Rounds signed it into law. But it won't go into effect unless voters say they agree.
South Dakota is in the national spotlight as groups for and against legal abortion try to sway voters. However for most people, this debate is much more personal. It's less about persuasion and more about what people believe. This story is about two friends with different beliefs.
Sioux Falls, S.D. — Meet Jennifer LaBerge Sorum. She's a 30-something occupational therapist with short brown hair and an infectious laugh. She has three children. LaBerge Sorum considers herself politically challenged. She doesn't pay attention to the inner workings of government. So when she first heard lawmakers voted to ban abortions in South Dakota she was confused.
"I didn't understand how that could happen when there's already a federal law in place," says LaBerge Sorum. "It makes us look like our state is going backwards."
Jennifer LaBerge Sorum signed a petition to bring her state's newly passed abortion ban to a public vote. She has a friend who didn't sign that petition. The two women agreed to discuss abortion and their beliefs over a diet Coke at a local restaurant. Jennifer LaBerge Sorum and her friend Rebecca Miranda have similar backgrounds. Both were raised in a conservative Catholic home.
Rebecca Miranda is a 30-something stay-at-home mom with five children. She's tall and slender with long blond hair, and Miranda considers a law banning abortion as a step forward.
"I felt an enormous liberation or feeling of hope for us," says Miranda. "I've always been a proponent for life and always felt a bit of despair for the fact that there were these unborn who weren't getting a chance at life," she says.
When Miranda was a little girl, her mother told her what abortion was. She can't remember why it came up in conversation but she does remember the impact the information had and her deep-seated feeling to take a stand against abortion.
"I think when I first realized it, I was 9 at the time, and I wrote President Reagan about it," says Miranda. "I received a response back, and he said thank you for your support and that it is God's gift, babies were, and he was trying to help in the preservation of life," she says.
Miranda took her letter from the President of the United States to school to share with her classmates. Her teacher wouldn't let her pass it around because the word God was in it.
Miranda also remembers talking a high school friend out of having an abortion.
While LaBerge Sorum was raised with the same beliefs as Rebecca, her views on abortion have changed with her life experiences.
"I was raised Catholic in a Republican household and as a child I think I felt the same way. But as I've grown older and experienced life, I think there are some circumstances that I don't think anybody should tell a woman what they can do with their body," says LaBerge Sorum.
LaBerge Sorum's life experience included finding out she was pregnant in college. A friend was pregnant at the same time. Both women made a choice. LaBerge Sorum had her baby, a daughter, and the friend had an abortion. LaBerge Sorum sees both sides because she considered both sides but she also sees a difficult side of life every day.
"I work with children with special needs that sometimes have situations where people know before the baby is born that there will be something wrong," says LaBerge Sorum. "I see what that life is like for that child and the family," she says.
Despite that, LaBerge Sorum believes all children are beautiful and have a purpose. Abortion is not about life and conception for her; it's about the government saying what can and can't be done.
Rebecca Miranda respects and understands her friend. But she doesn't agree.
Miranda and LaBerge Sorum don't argue about abortion they talk with each other about what they believe. They don't try to change each other's mind and they both know when they vote in November, they'll cancel each other out.
The two friends do agree on one thing and that's to use education to prevent unwanted pregnancies. They just can't agree how to do it.
Miranda says sex education has to happen at home. LaBerge Sorum says it's not always possible.
"That's a great theory and I wish it was like that but we have some parents who can't even get their kids to school. We have some schools in our city that hires someone to go around and pick up kids. Let's throw sex education on top in their world. It's not going to happen," says LaBerge Sorum.
LaBerge Sorum says for many families a trained educator would be better at explaining sex and anatomy than the parents.
Miranda is all for education but questions what should be taught in schools. She wonders if kids should really know everything about sex.
"What if it is brought out like that and we just educate and educate and sex becomes just a common word for some people. Maybe isn't a little bit scary a little bit good - and if they become so comfortable with it maybe it's going to be like what's the big deal, I can be doing that, and if there's a little apprehension," says Miranda.
LaBerge Sorum interrupts.
"Why do we educate kids about drugs? It's the same kind of a topic," says LaBerge Sorum. "If you educate it may not keep them from trying it but at least they're going to know what will happen if they take those drugs," she says.
LaBerge Sorum wants more role-playing in the classroom. She wants girls to practice saying no and to talk about situations where they might feel pressured into having sex. Miranda agrees girls need to know how to say no to sex.
Neither Jennifer LaBerge Sorum nor Rebecca Miranda have the answers, neither claims to. They only have their beliefs and their life experiences. After this conversation both women admit to a new understanding when it comes to abortion. The friends say they'll respect each other regardless of whose belief gets the most votes in November.
- All Things Considered, 06/20/2006, 5:49 p.m.