PIERRE, S.D. (BP)–The nation’s most ambitious attempt to restrict abortion in the past 33 years was turned back in the Nov. 7 election, as voters repealed a ban passed last winter by the state legislature.
The referendum known as Referred Law 6 was defeated by a 56-44 percent margin, the secretary of state’s office reported. The measure gathered approximately 186,000 votes opposed to the ban while nearly 149,000 voters supported it.
“We believe South Dakotans can make these decisions themselves,” said Jan Nicolay, a leader in the anti-ban campaign, according to the Associated Press. “They don’t have to have somebody telling them what that decision needs to be.”
Combined with the failure to enact parental notification laws in California and Oregon, the pro-life movement suffered three key setbacks Tuesday.
However, a spokesperson for California’s Yes on 85 campaign said pro-lifers should not be discouraged by the results.
“I would have to say to some extent the pro-life camp has to be more diligent about exposing the nature of the opposition, which is Planned Parenthood,” Albin Rhomberg said. “There’s also non-reporting about the sexual abuse of minors. The pro-life movement needs to report that and educate themselves about it.”
As in South Dakota, the parental notification initiatives in California and Oregon were voted down by significant margins.
In California, Proposition 85 lost by a 54-46 percent margin, with more than 2.9 million votes in favor and 3.5 million against. It would have required parents to be notified 48 hours before a minor could obtain an abortion.
Oregon’s State Ballot Measure 43 also would have required a 48-hour notice to parents of any girl 15 to 17 (state law requires parental consent for any medical procedure on children under 15). It lost by an identical 54-46 percent, with nearly 416,000 votes in favor and 482,000 in opposition.
South Dakota’s initiative may have been harmed by a lack of unanimity on the issue. Some pro-lifers opposed Referred Law 6, questioning the timing for a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established legal access to abortion nationwide.
Leslee Unruh, campaign manager for Vote Yes for Life on Six, however, described the measure as a state’s right issue.
“I didn’t put it in to challenge Roe v. Wade,” said Unruh, founder of South Dakota’s largest crisis pregnancy center. “That became the story for the national and international press that was here, which is why Planned Parenthood put all their guns on this issue.”
Unruh told Baptist Press the campaign suffered from a lack of visible support from Gov. Mike Rounds, confusion over the wording on the ballot and the failure of national right-to-life groups to support the initiative.
Another major problem originated with extreme pro-lifers from outside the state, Unruh said. Some distributed pictures of dead babies and used such scary tactics she said she had to hire a bodyguard and fulltime security for the campaign office.
Despite the setback, Unruh believes Vote Yes for Life succeeded in changing the public’s rhetoric by emphasizing how abortion harms women. She expects similar campaigns against abortion in West Virginia and Texas.
“If you could have been there [Tuesday] night and seen the fervor in the room, these women aren’t going away,” Unruh said. “We’re stronger than ever. I’m more committed to this than I’ve ever been.
“Women came from all over the country to work the phones. They’re going back to their states with the message that abortion hurts women. We need to prove to women we’re the ones with love and compassion.”
In California, a parental notification law failed for the second straight year despite endorsements from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and such celebrities as actress Patricia Heaton and talk show host Dr. Laura Schlesinger.
Rhomberg predicted his group will form another attempt to place the measure on the ballot for a third time in 2008.
While Yes on 85 raised approximately $3 million, he said the campaign spent much of that money gathering 1 million-plus signatures in less than 100 days, leaving only limited resources for Election Day.
He estimated Planned Parenthood outspent Yes on 85 by a 5-1 margin, including several million dollars on TV advertising, compared to zero for the initiative’s supporters.
“We felt this was a win,” Rhomberg said. “For the first time Planned Parenthood was forced to use their resources to defend the indefensible. They campaigned using scare tactics and deceiving voters with false ads.
“If we had journalistic integrity, the voters would be informed by the media and the candidates,” Rhomberg added. “If you want to inform the public, you have to pay the media to inform the voters.”
The Oregon initiative was supported by the Committee to Protect Our Teen Daughters, which said the state was one of only six lacking some form of parental involvement law for teen abortions.
The group argued that nearly nine out of 10 girls whose parents aren’t aware of their pregnancy wind up telling their boyfriends instead of their parents, denying them the help they need.
State health statistics showed that nearly 2,000 teens had abortions in Oregon in 2004, with 17.5 percent undergoing a second or third abortion. Nearly one-third of pregnant girls 17 and under are impregnated by a man 20 or older, according to the state department of human services website.
Still, Nancy Bennett, a spokesperson for No on 43, said the more voters learned about the proposal the less they liked it, commenting that Oregonians don’t like the government getting involved in intimate family decisions.
“They were very uncomfortable with this,” Bennett told the Portland Oregonian.
Calls by Baptist Press seeking comment from the Committee to Protect Our Teen Daughters and the National Right to Life office were not returned. A spokesman for Planned Parenthood in New York, meanwhile, said no one was available to comment because of Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on the federal partial-birth abortion ban.