South Dakota has long been recognized as a very pro-life state. There is only one abortion clinic in the entire state, located in Sioux Falls on the east end of the state, and none of the abortion doctors are from South Dakota. Instead, the abortionists fly in from Minnesota to perform the abortions by appointment. South Dakota also has some of the toughest restrictions on abortion in the United States.
Consequently, many people wonder how Referred Law 6, an abortion ban passed as the "Women's Health and Human Protection Act" (HB 1215) by a bipartisan majority of the legislature earlier this year, could have failed to pass muster with the voters on November 7, 2006.
From the beginning, the rape/incest exception in the Act was the number-one objection to the abortion ban. Most supporters of the ban knew they would have to educate the voters not only on the provision in the bill for emergency contraception, but about the humanity of the unborn child -- even one who was conceived in rape.
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A great deal of energy was spent on both sides making the case for and against the provision in Section 3 of the legislation which allowed for the use of emergency contraception up until the time when it could be scientifically determined that the woman was pregnant. Supporters of Referred Law 6 pointed out that this provision had been placed in the bill specifically to allow a compassionate provision for women who had been raped. However, abortion supporters denounced the provision as not meeting the full-fledged exception they sought which would allow an abortion in rape and incest cases.
As early voting by absentee ballot began to take place in late September, misinformation again plagued the abortion ban, with reports that some people had voted "no" to Referred Law 6, thinking they were voting "no" to abortion itself.
"I believe there were a number of things working against us," said VoteYesForLife.com campaign manager Leslee Unruh. "Historically, the voters go against the legislature on 80 percent of referendum issues."
Unruh said that in addition to history not being on their side with a referred law, there were some problems within the coalition in staying on message, with some well-meaning pro-life groups and individuals using methods and tactics that may have distorted the message that abortion not only hurts the unborn, but is devastating to women as well.
The legislation suffered, too, from a dearth of leadership support within political circles. While South Dakota's Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth and Senator Tim Johnson came out strongly against Referred Law 6, Senator John Thune, a pro-life Republican, was largely silent. Governor Mike Rounds, also a pro-life Republican, signed the bill after it passed the legislature, but gave only lukewarm support of the measure once a successful petition drive referred it to a vote of the people.
There was also a lot of nastiness from opponents of the ban, coming in the form of threats of violence to Unruh, and the vandalism and theft of hundreds of campaign signs throughout the state, which may have served to distract those involved in the campaign and those the campaign was trying to reach.
Facts are still being gathered, but Unruh said that in the final days of the campaign, many people received phone calls from people claiming to be from VoteYesForLife.com, but the calls urged voters to vote "no" on Referred Law 6. Unruh said she had received one of these calls herself. The investigation into this development is ongoing, she said.
Although some effort was made by the campaign to point out that one of the key legitimate roles of government is to protect the innocent, it was not heard often, or until near the end of the campaign. Many Referred Law 6 supporters, including VoteYesForLife.com board member Stacey Wollman, believe the strong sentiment in western South Dakota against what was seen by some as "government intrusion" hindered the effectiveness of the campaign.
Many pro-life advocates are uncertain about the future of any bills which might be introduced in the legislature that have exceptions allowing for rape, since most pro-life supporters view the life of the child conceived in rape as being just as valuable as the life of any other child. Others believe that if strict parameters were placed on a rape exception, such as a requirement to report the crime to authorities in a timely fashion, it might gain the support of pro-lifers as a pragmatic compromise, reducing the number of abortions in the state if not stopping it altogether.
The VoteYesForLife.com coalition brought together many pro-life individuals and organizations to focus on passage of this bill. Some 3,000 volunteers across the state joined the effort, from the two main offices in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, to county coordinators and other volunteers spread throughout South Dakota. Those working on the campaign were a diverse group of Catholics, Protestants, Native Americans, men and women, young and old.
Unruh says VoteYesForLife.com isn't going away, as most election campaigns do. "We realize this effort is a marathon, not a sprint," she said. "We have a strong coalition and we're going to keep it together. The strategy for South Dakota is in the process of being worked out, and in the meantime, we'll be in a position to help other states as they pursue pro-life legislation."
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Expect the fight for life at all stages of development to continue in South Dakota. Dakota Voice/Agape Press