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ELECTION 08: S.D. considers abortion ban

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (BP)–If Roe v. Wade is overturned in the next few years, then the path to its reversal could begin on Election Day in South Dakota, where voters once again will consider an initiative that would ban most abortions.

Two years ago, voters by a 56-44 percent margin sided with pro-choicers and overturned a new law banning all abortions except in cases to save the life of the mother. This year, voters will consider a ban that has an exception for the life of the mother and adds exceptions for rape and incest.

Measure 11, as it is called, isn’t a perfect proposal in the minds of some pro-lifers, but it may be passable. Nationally, polls consistently show that a majority of Americans oppose abortion in the large majority of cases. That holds true in South Dakota.

Supporters gathered 58,000 signatures — far more than the 19,000 required — to place the measure on the ballot.

“We did some polling after 2006, and we found that South Dakotans wanted to have exceptions for rape and incest,” Leslee Unruh, campaign manager for VoteYesForLife.com, the main organization backing measure 11, told Baptist Press. “They wanted some strict restrictions — they didn’t want anybody just to be able to come in and say, ‘I was raped,’ and have an abortion. They wanted to see that within the law, the woman would have enough time to seek help.

“… Of course, our opponents want abortion on demand, and we’ve made it really clear that South Dakotans — from all polling that we’ve done — want abortion stopped as birth control.”

A 2004 study by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute showed that 86 percent of abortions were performed for convenience.

The Election Night tally could be close. An Argus Leader/KELO-TV poll of 800 likely voters released Oct. 26 showed the race a dead heat, with 44 percent supportive of Measure 11 and 44 percent opposed, with 12 percent undecided. Those undecideds apparently will determine the measure’s fate. The poll is an improvement from a pre-election poll in 2006 showing pro-lifers trailing 52-42 percent.

Not surprisingly, Measure 11 opponents — funded mostly by Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider — are outspending and out-fundraising supporters by a wide margin. According to campaign finance reports, VoteYesForLife.com raised $734,000 through Oct. 24, while South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families — the main organization opposing Measure 11 — raised $1.7 million, of which Planned Parenthood had contributed just over $1 million and the American Civil Liberties Union $50,000.

But Measure 11 backers have an ally they hope can sway voters. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortion doctor and founding member of NARAL Pro-Choice America who now is a pro-life advocate, filmed an ad supporting Measure 11, despite the fact that at age 82 he is very sick. He says he’s the last surviving member of NARAL, which this year gave $40,000 to opponents.

“We founded NARAL with the goal to export our pro-abortion mentality across the land,” he says in the ad, looking into the camera and speaking slowly. “One of our strategies in order to mislead the American public was to deny what we knew to be true: that an abortion kills an existing human being. This was the greatest mistake of my life and the greatest mistake in our nation’s history. The people of South Dakota can end the use of abortion as birth control in their state by voting yes on Initiative 11 on Nov. 4.”

The treasurer for VoteYesForLife.com’s campaign, Patti Giebink, also once was an abortion doctor. Additionally, YesForLife.com’s Sioux Falls’ office is located in a former abortion clinic. Unruh said Nathanson contacted Measure 11 backers, offering his support.

“He’s just in his own living room and having to literally be propped up,” she said. “He’s very ill. He put himself under a lot of pressure personally to do something like this. He wants to make things right again. He wants to be remembered for wanting the killing to stop. It’s powerful — to know that he says, ‘I killed 75,000 babies,’ and he’s pleading with South Dakota, ‘Please, stop the killing.'”

Unruh knows about abortion; she once had one, and felt guilt for years before finding freedom and forgiveness in her Christian faith. Now, she is seeking to prevent women from experiencing the guilt she once felt.

Unruh and others believe Measure 11 would survive a legal challenge. In fact, according to the VoteYearforLife.com website, legal experts who back it argue that the Supreme Court wouldn’t even have to overturn Roe or the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey; the court simply could redefine what the cases mean “in such a way to allow states to protect maternal and fetal health throughout pregnancy by limiting the availability of abortion to cases of rape, incest and threats to the mother’s life and physical health.”

Attorney General Larry Long and a team of approximately a dozen attorneys helped write Measure 11. Unruh, asked if she sees Measure 11 as a direct challenge to Roe, replied, “Only if Planned Parenthood would decide to sue.

“But that’s their choice,” she added.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For more information about Measure 11, or to learn how you can help it pass, visit VoteYesForLife.com.

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  • Michael Foust