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South Dakota anti-abortion law (originally bill, HB1215)

Public reactions; Campaigns; Votes

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Public opinion poll 2004-MAY:

The Argus Leader newspaper cooperated with KELO-TV to determine the beliefs of the people of South Dakota. 800 adult subjects were asked which statement "comes closest to your view on the issue of abortion." The results were:

bullet 34% believed that abortion should be legal and the decision to have an abortion should be made by the woman without government interference.
bullet 34% believed that  abortion should be legal but restricted to very specific circumstances, such as rape, incest or to save the life of the mother
bullet 25% believed that abortion should be illegal and not permitted under any circumstances, even to save the life of the woman.
bullet 7% either did not answer or did not have an opinion.

The margin of error was about ?4%. 1

Unfortunately, the survey obscures as much as it reveals. A more comprehensive survey would have asked specific questions:

bullet Do you believe that the decision to seek an abortion should be totally left up to the woman and her physician, or should there be restrictions on abortion access?
bullet If the person favors some restrictions, then the following questions could be asked: Should abortions be available in cases where:
bullet The pregnancy was caused by Incest?
bullet The pregnancy was caused by rape?
bullet If an abortion is needed to prevent serious health problems for the woman?
bullet If an abortion is needed to prevent permanent disability for the woman?
bullet If needed to prevent the woman's death?
bullet Should emergency contraceptives (often called the morning-after pill) be freely available?

Unfortunately, pollsters seem to shy away from conducting such a meaningful survey. We have never seen such a poll taken in any state or nationwide. Yet this is precisely the type of information needed by legislators who are considering drafting laws restricting abortion.

We have been unable to find any polling data for South Dakota since 2004. Now that the state has passed a law criminalizing essentially all abortions, many citizens of the state will probably think through their beliefs about abortion in greater depth. Future polls may well be more meaningful and represent more carefully considered opinion by the public.

Public opinion polls during 2006:

A Mason-Dixon poll taken during 2006-JUL found that 39% of potential voters backed the law and 47% opposed it.

Zogby International conducted a small poll of 531 South Dakota voters on 2006-SEP-20. They found that found that 44% supported the abortion ban and 47% still opposed it.

The Zogby poll found that:

bullet 47 % of women and 41 % of men support the ban
bullet Voters under the age of 30 back the abortion ban by a two-to-one margin! 8

The fate of the ban will be determined only by those adults who actually vote. Those who favor an abortion ban are probably more likely to make the effort to vote on NOV-07. Thus the law will probably be approved by voters, unless opinions change markedly before voting day.

Public response to the law:

Don Dahlin, political science professor at the University of South Dakota, said:

"Obviously, this is one of the most contentious issues in American society, so when a state does something dramatic, I think you can reasonably expect it will elicit a pretty strong response from the folks who have an interest in the issue."

The Women's Medical Fund, a group promoting access to abortion organized a boycott of the state. Anne Gaylor, the group's director, said: "Our message is that if they are going to treat women in this inhumane way, they can expect to pay a price."

Politicians, and personnel at state agencies, parks, etc. in South Dakota were surprised by the reaction of people from all over the U.S. to the new anti-abortion law. Some people phoned the Mount Rushmore monument -- South Dakota's largest tourist attraction. Of these, some said they would never visit Mount Rushmore again because of the abortion law; others sad they would make a point of visiting the monument. The governor's office set up a call center with five telephone lines to handle the flood of calls. Press secretary Mark Johnston said: "I don't know of any other single event that has generated more interest than this." In the two weeks following the signing of the bill into law, the governor's office estimated that they had received 10,000 phone calls, E-mails and letters. 2

Taking the abortion question to the ballot box:

According to the Argus Leader:

"...analysts expect millions of dollars from outside sources to pour into the state because of the matter's national importance....those who study political advertising think the blitz about to hit South Dakota will be persistent, personal, emotional and couched in terms designed to appeal to gray areas in the debate....the South Dakota measure, the first in the nation resembling an outright ban, will dwarf past ballot issues and overshadow this year's races for governor and Congress. ..."

Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. said:

"Arguably, people outside South Dakota care about the issue more than people who live in the state. There's a sense that as goes South Dakota so could go other states and eventually the whole country."

Terry Robertson, associate professor of political communication studies at the University of South Dakota said that opponents of the ban had two chances to defeat the new law - first on election day, then in court if they lose at the polls. Supporters of the ban, on the other hand, must win twice - at the ballot box and in court. Because of that, she predicted that one likely effect of the petition drive will be supporters of the ban putting their money into advertising rather than a legal fund the Legislature set up to defend the ban in court. She said:

"The pro-life side had this basic assumption that life begins at conception. They're going to play that up. Anti-abortion advertising has been going on for a long time with different billboards saying abortion 'stops a beating heart.' I think it's been effective to a degree. I think the abortion debate has moved to the right the last 30 years....My opinion is the Supreme Court will not hear South Dakota's bill. I think they will take another bill that has the rape and incest clause.""

Peggy Loonan, executive director of Life and Liberty for Women -- a pro-choice agency said:

"If South Dakotans feel talked down to, like they're being addressed as children by a parent, they may very well lash out and say, 'I may be personally opposed to abortion, but this really ticks me off'. It works both ways. But I think on the pro-choice side you have women trying to empower women. On the other side you have the religious right talking patriarchally, especially the more that men get involved."

Anne Newman, communications director for the Justice Foundation, a pro-life agency discussed new scientific foundings since 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided. She said:

"When a child is conceived, an egg is fertilized, and at that point the unborn child has all the DNA it will ever have. The DNA tells its hair color, eye color, skin color. ... It's a unique individual. An individual has been created with DNA that has never existed in the past and will never exist again naturally. That's new information since Roe v. Wade. We didn't know then what we know now." 3

Ballot signatures:

By early 2006-MAY, pro-choice advocates have collected about 10,000 signatures to place the abortion issue on the 2--6-NOV ballot. They need to supply the secretary of state with 16,728 signatures by JUN-19 in order to prevent the law from going into effect on JUL-01 and to force a referendum.

bullet Anne Thompson, a petition carrier in Sioux Falls, said: "The people of South Dakota have the right to express their opinion on this very controversial, very sensitive issue of which there is much division."
bullet Kimberly Martinez, executive director of the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls -- a pro-life group -- said: "When the legislators were debating this House Bill 1215, they were overwhelmed with calls and e-mails and letters from the constituents [so] that the people of South Dakota actually already voted..."If it gets onto the ballot we welcome it."
bullet Nathan Peterson, another petition helper, said: "A great deal [sic] of folks are well aware of what's going on. They're just looking for a chance to sign and then a chance to vote in November. It's an important enough law and an extreme enough law that every South Dakotan should have the chance to voice their opinion." 4

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families announced on 2006-MAY-30 that it had collected more than 37,000 signatures from persons opposed to the new restrictive abortion law -- more than twice the minimum needed (16,728). They presented them to Chris Nelson, the Secretary of State for South Dakota. If accepted, then law would not come into force on JUL-01 as had been specified by the Legislature, and the matter will be placed on the 2006-NOV ballot. 5

Evelyn Griesse of South Dakota Access for Every Woman, an agency that facilitates abortions by poor women said:

"A lot of people don't pay attention to anything that goes on in the Legislature and aren't aware of what this bill actually says. We'll need to know the exact wording [of the ballot measure] so we can tell people 'vote yes' or 'vote no.'"

Jan Nicolay, a former Republican state lawmaker who organized the petition said:

"It's no slam dunk. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

Leslee Unruh, who operates a pregnancy crisis center that persuades women to not have an  abortion, said that those who support the law are energized:

"It's probably the loudest cry we've heard. It's because there are so many women who have been harmed by abortion-- myself being one of them--who have come together." 6


The South Dakota Campaign For Healthy Families -- the group who is attempting to overturn the law -- raised $116,000 by 2006-JUN-28, according to their report filed with the Secretary of State. They have $96,000 left with which to fight the campaign.

The group supporting the law has raised $88,000 but has allegedly spent $87,000 on such matters as consulting and research. They have less than 800 dollars left. 7

The campaign:

bullet By the end of 2006-JUN The Campaign for Healthy Families, a pro-choice group -- had raised a total of $146,452.85, according to the secretary of state's office. The Vote Yes campaign -- a pro-life group -- had raised $88,095. 9
bullet A group called "Vote Yes for Life" began a bus tour across South Dakota on 2006-JUL-12. Their goal is to uphold the state law in the November referendum. Leslie Unruh, the group's leader, told a gathering of about 100 supporters:

"We're all about life, helping women and helping babies....Abortion hurts women, abortion denies us our relationship with our child. All of us have a reason for being born."

bullet Don Dahlin. a political scientist from the University of South Dakota said that the spending levels were much lower than expected, considering the national implications the vote likely will have. He said: "I expect to see quite a lot more going on now before the election." 9
bullet Some pro-lifers are complaining about vandals defacing their campaign signs. Phil Eddy, outreach coordinator for ALL, said:

"We're disgusted with the illegal and destructive activity that is taking place. Unfortunately, we should not be surprised at these incidents considering the fact that the vandals are wreaking havoc in the name of abortion ? the epitome of violence. ... Abortion advocates know they are losing the battle and are resorting to vicious means to try and dissuade public opinion away from the truth. ... In Rapid City and Sioux Falls alone, we have seen hundreds of Vote Yes for Life signs defaced, burned and stolen. We have seen pro-life volunteers' cars vandalized and wooden crosses on church property destroyed. We have seen both a Catholic high school and Catholic church spray-painted with pro-abortion slogans. Most troubling is the fact that not one pro-abortion group, or media outlet, has publicly condemned these attacks."

There are reports of signs being spray painted with a stencil in the shape of a 10 week fetus with umbilical cord and the slogan "Eat Babies." It is unclear who is doing this. This does not seem like either a pro-life or a pro-choice slogan. 10

The South Dakota Offensive:

Members of Preborn Christ Church in Bend, OR and the staff of The Christian Gallery News Service started an offensive in South Dakota on 2006-OCT-17. They are planning to take pictures of clients entering the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls, and publicizing them.

Robert Rudnick of Preborn Christ Church is reported as saying:

"Too many times, the pro-life movement has snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory,. The South Dakota Offensive is a golden opportunity to reverse the track record of collaboration with death." Reporter Jonathan O'Toole, said:

"How can anyone know Christ as Savior when Christians allow the Federal Government to usurp His role as The Creator of human life? When we let men overthrow the power of God to decide who should live and who should die, how can we expect men to believe us when we say that Christ is risen from the dead?"

"In addition, a Truth Truck will canvass the state of South Dakota with pictures of aborted babies. The people of South Dakota will either affirm or reject the sweeping laws passed by the SD legislature and signed by the governor." 11

The vote:

On the early morning of 2006-NOV-08, election day, Reuters reported:

"South Dakota voters overturned on Tuesday a state abortion ban that supporters had championed as the best chance to challenge a 33-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing the procedure."

" 'This means that there has been a rebellion against social, right-wing wedge politics that have been dominating this country,' said Sarah Stoesz, chief of Planned Parenthood's operations in the Dakotas and Minnesota, key backers of the campaign to kill the measure. ... 'It is a very important victory for people who are open-minded and progressive in this country'."

"Supporters of the abortion ban declined to comment."

"With 81 percent of vote counted early Wednesday, those voting to overturn the law had an advantage of 55 percent to 45 percent, and CNN projected a victory for opponents of the measure." 12

The final vote was essentially unchanged at 56% no and 44% yes. 13

One might speculate that if the law had allowed:

bullet Abortions in those cases where a woman's health would otherwise be devastated, or
bullet Abortions in case of rape or incest, then

the public may have voted to implement the law.


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Majority of South Dakotans Believe Abortion Should Be Legal; Most Favor Some Restrictions, Poll Says," Kaiser Network daily reports, 2004-MAY-19, at:
  2. Chet Brokaw, "Abortion ban in S. Dakota could prompt tourism boycott -- or boom," Associated Press, 2006-MAR-19, at:
  3. John Walker, "Ad blitz coming in abortion campaign. S.D. debate to lure out-of-state interest," Argus Leader, 2006-MAR-26, at:
  4. "Abortion petitions circulated," Associated Press, 2006-MAY-08, at:
  5. Joe Shaulis, "South Dakota group claims enough signatures to block abortion ban, force ballot," Jurist Legal News & Research, 2006-MAY-30, at:
  6. Judy Peres, "S. Dakota abortion ban in voters' hands: OK is 'no slam dunk' after petition drive," Chicago Tribune, 2006-JUN-20. Online at:
  7. "First finances filed in abortion ballot fight," Associated Press, 2006-JUL, at:
  8. Steven Ertelt, "South Dakota Abortion Ban Gets More Support in New Zogby Poll," Christian Life Resources, at:
  9. "Abortion ban campaigns investing in TV ads," Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, 2006-OCT-24, at:
  10. Bob Unruh, "Coat hangers painted on South Dakota's pro-life signs. Abortion opponents say their message is reaching people, provoking reactions 2006-OCT-24, Word Net Daily, at:
  11. "The South Dakota Offensive Has Begun!," Christian Gallery News Service, 2006-OCT-18, at:
  12. "Voters reject South Dakota abortion ban,", 2006-NOV-08, at:
  13. "America Votes 2006,", 2006-NOV-08, at:

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Copyright 2006 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-FEB-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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