Monday, October 9, 2006

Antiabortion Campaign Waves Feminist Flag

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The ballot box fight to preserve a tough South Dakota ban is framed as a women's rights issue.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In the fight to preserve the toughest abortion ban in the nation, the talk is not of a fetus' right to life. It's of a woman's right to motherhood.

Antiabortion activists here deliberately avoid the familiar slogans of their movement. They don't talk about the "murder of innocent babies" or quote the Bible on the sanctity of life. Instead, campaign manager Leslee Unruh has taken what she calls a feminist approach, arguing that legalized abortion exploits women and — for their sake — must be stopped.

The bumper stickers and T-shirts that fill campaign headquarters spell out her message, in pink and blue: "Abortion Hurts Women."

"We women buy the choice line. We're panicked, or we're being pressured, or we're ashamed to have a child outside marriage," Unruh said. She speaks from personal experience; she had an abortion nearly 30 years ago and said her life since has been darkened with regret and longing. "If you don't do your job right as a mother," Unruh asked, "what good is everything else?"

Abortion-rights supporters call such rhetoric patronizing and presumptuous; they say many women find that ending unwanted pregnancies brings relief and the freedom to pursue other dreams. But they acknowledge that Unruh's tactic is effective — and that it has thrown their campaign off balance.

"Historically, this debate has been focused on fetal rights, fetal life. We have a lot of language about that," said Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and North and South Dakota. "This adds an element we're not accustomed to. It's a different line of debate…. And that is something we struggle with politically."
[....snip]
The antiabortion camp has attracted hundreds of activists; some have brought with them the strident language Unruh had hoped to avoid. A voter guide produced by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls refers to abortion as a "moral evil," part of "the culture of death." Last month, activists from Wisconsin waved photos of dismembered fetuses at a busy intersection in Rapid City.

Unruh says she hates such messages "with a passion." Banning abortion should be about "compassion and love," she says — not "anger and death."

On a recent afternoon, she spotted a family of volunteers wearing olive-green T-shirts that read "Abortion — the leading cause of death in America." Unruh sent an aide to get them official campaign shirts, which feature the cheery faces of three women and a bright-eyed baby.
[....snip] KTLA-TV Los Angeles
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