Will South Dakota Attempt to Ban Abortion Again?


It's not only the presidential elections that come with mud-slinging and poll-watching. South Dakota is home to the music of dueling-poll results released on Thursday.

On one side, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, the only abortion provider in the state of South Dakota. On the other, a group of unidentified anti-choice organizations.

Both conducted polls through DC-based pollsters and asked South Dakotan voters or likely voters about their feelings on the legality of and access to abortion. 75% of South Dakotans believe there are better ways to reduce abortion than criminalization. It's not the results that are most interesting, however. It's the fact that the polls may be a lead up to another ballot measure show-down to ban abortions in South Dakota.

In 2006, voters in South Dakota squarely rejected, with the help of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, an abortion ban through a ballot initiative. The initiative struck down a law (authored by Leslee Unruh, President of the Abstinence Clearinghouse and former crisis pregnancy center director) that would have banned abortion altogether for women, with no exception for the woman's life or health.

The law also sought to criminalize providers who perform abortions with a jail term and up to a $10,000 fine.

The original law was introduced on the recommendation of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortions, an almost entirely anti-choice committee with a duty to, according to the Well-Timed Period, "study and evaluate medical evidence, reporting its findings, and make recommendations as to the need for any additional legislation governing medical procedures." Astoundingly, the seventeen members of the task force included the husband of Leslee Unruh, Dr. Allen Unruh as well as a total of only four medical doctors; one of whom was an actual OB/GYN.

The task force crumbled under the weight of dissension with members walking out of the final meeting when, according to an article in the Yankton Press, the majority of members, "who oppose abortion, rejected proposals that would have helped reduce the number of abortions by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in South Dakota." One task force member, Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, said "he was upset that the report is filled with dishonest statements and is biased toward one religion…and left the meeting after about a half dozen proposed changes were rejected without discussion."

Despite the obvious biases and lack of agreement on the report that came out of the task force, South Dakotan legislators including Rep. Roger Hunt introduced the South Dakota abortion ban and proudly mused that of course there was an exception. What was that exception for the life or health of the woman? According to an article written after the ban was struck down:

"Supporters fought back, saying the ban did offer options to rape and incest survivors thanks to a provision stating that nothing in the ban would prevent women from taking emergency contraceptives until the time a pregnancy could be determined through conventional means."

But South Dakotans, under the unerring efforts of the pro-choice organizers – including South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, in large numbers said no to an abortion ban that would have stripped their female citizens of their basic human rights.

Leslee and her cohort are not letting it go.

There is a draft of an abortion ban measure currently being reviewed by the South Dakota State Legislative Council that bans abortion with exceptions in the cases of rape, incest or health of the pregnant woman.

For some, this is not enough. One commenter on an anti-choice site wrote, "I say bring it on… but I want the rape or incest exceptions to have requirements that in the case of rape there has to be a police report within 24 hours of the alleged attack, and in an incest case that it be DNA verified via an amniocentisis [sic] draw and if it involves illegal/underage sex there be charges brought."

52% of South Dakotans, however, say they oppose putting an abortion ban on the ballot in November.

Despite that, legislators like Rep. Roger Hunt are optimistic about either a ballot measure or a legislative option, "Stay tuned," Hunt said. "I do believe the pro-life interests across the state are looking at both of these routes."

For more information or to find out how you may help, visit South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families.

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