July 10, 2006

Battle continues in South Dakota over state-level bill that bans most abortions

This South Dakota bill does not recognize the legal "personhood" of all pre-birth human beings because it allows for a life-of-the-mother "exception" to a ban on child-murder-by-abortion. It does aim to protect children conceived in the cases of rape and incest. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision said 33 years ago that "If this suggestion of personhood is established, the [pro-abortion] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”


Steve Lefemine, pro-life missionary
dir., Columbia Christians for Life
Columbia, SC



The Philadelphia Inquirer


Posted on Sun, Jul. 09, 2006

Unpredictable lines in S.D. abortion fight

By Paul Nussbaum

Inquirer Staff Writer

One in an occasional series

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - From the rocking chair on his back porch, Roger Hunt can see beyond the apple trees, vegetable garden and neighboring fields to the future.

"The appointment of [Samuel] Alito and [John] Roberts gives us four of nine justices," said Hunt, the legislator who sponsored South Dakota's new law that bans virtually all abortions. "Maybe [Anthony] Kennedy or another justice would vote with them. But even if not, Stevens is 86 years old.

"So there is a strong likelihood that President Bush will get an opportunity to appoint another judge to the Supreme Court. I think that within three years, we will have five pro-life judges. And it will take this legislation three years to get there."

That's the calculus of abortion politics here, as South Dakota prepares for a showdown on the nation's most restrictive abortion law: The time is ripe to topple Roe v. Wade, and this is the case to do it.

Now there's a wrinkle. Those opposed to the abortion ban have gathered enough signatures to block the new law until a referendum in November. For the first time in the 33 years since Roe, voters will decide whether to outlaw abortion.

So America's abortion war - with its religious and political and moral overtones - has moved to the prairie. The wholesome, unpretentious land of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) and Norm van Brocklin (the Philadelphia Eagles) is girding for an ugly season of politicking over fetuses, rape and incest.

The fight has splintered this conservative state in unpredictable ways, turning Republicans against Republicans, Democrats against Democrats, wives against husbands. And South Dakotans, who pride themselves on their independence, have become proxies in a national battle.

Both sides predict victory in a close, emotional contest.

"This is a very significant strategic departure for us," said Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. "This is not the strategy the reproductive-rights movement usually uses. We tend to file lawsuits.

"But we know we have to build a broader movement in the country if we're going to sustain our rights over time. Lawsuits win tactical skirmishes, but they don't build political movements."

The South Dakota law makes abortion illegal except to prevent the death of the mother. It makes felons of doctors who perform abortions. It provides no exception for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.

The sweeping nature of the law provides the desired direct legal challenge to Roe. But it also undercuts its popular support.

"It's too strong; there aren't enough exceptions," a middle-aged woman said outside the post office in Brookings. "If I were raped, I don't know if I'd want to have the baby."

"Oh, don't get me started," said Peggy Kolb, a hotel manager in Sioux Falls. "It just infuriates me. That decision shouldn't be left to the politicians."

A coworker, Deb Shorr, said, "I don't agree with abortion. But that goes too far."

Walter Bones, who farms the land his great-grandfather homesteaded outside Parker, said the lack of a rape-or-incest provision "is not a big enough issue" to erode his support for the law. "There is value in every life," he said.

"My wife is on the other side, though," Bones said. "We do a pretty good job of canceling each other out."

Nationwide surveys show an ambivalence about abortion that makes yes-or-no answers difficult for many Americans. And while South Dakota is clearly more opposed to abortion than the nation as a whole, the same types of divisions are apparent here.

Nationwide, 30 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal under any circumstances, 15 percent say it should be illegal in all circumstances, and 53 percent say it should be legal under certain circumstances, according to the Gallup poll's latest survey on the issue in May. Asked if they would liketo see Roe overturned, 55 percent said no and 32 percent said yes.

Most Americans, by a margin of 58-34 percent, say they would oppose a national law like South Dakota's, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

In South Dakota, "if the vote were today, I think they would overturn the law," said David Kranz, longtime political writer for the Argus-Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls. "But the pro-life people are much more organized, by a long shot.

"There is only one clinic in the state that performs abortions, a low, brick Planned Parenthood office on the edge of Sioux Falls. About 800 abortions were performed in South Dakota last year, and the state's abortion rate (5 per 1,000 women aged 15-44) is among the nation's lowest (national average rate is 16). About 25 percent of the population is Roman Catholic; the church has been active in support of the ban.

The state's politics are shaped by its geography. West River, the half of the state west of the Missouri River, is home to the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, and a hardy streak of libertarian sentiment. The eastern half is more like its Midwestern neighbors, with rolling fields of corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and traditional Midwestern values.

Republicans dominate the state that was once best known for producing Democrats such as Sens. George McGovern and Tom Daschle. Republican Gov. Mike Rounds signed the abortion ban, and the GOP easily controls both houses of the Legislature.

But the sides in the abortion fight have not been drawn strictly along party or gender lines. Of the 34 legislators who voted against the abortion law, 17 were Republicans and 17 were Democrats. And of the 17 women in the Legislature, 12 voted for the law.

"It's not a partisan issue," said Rep. Kathy Miles, a Democrat who is a leading supporter of the new law. "My district is very Democratic and very pro-life. This has always been a pro-life state - it's something that people in South Dakota feel strongly about."

Miles said abortions in cases of rape or incest make a woman a victim twice. "Is it the child's fault how they were conceived? Two wrongs don't make a right."

Rep. Casey Murschel, a Republican actively opposed to the law and instrumental in gathering signatures to force a referendum on the issue, said, "When it gets down to it, this is more government than South Dakotans want," she said. "... Most South Dakotans have an independent streak, and they don't need everyone sticking their nose in their business."

When the two parties held their conventions last month, Republicans urged GOP voters to support the law and soundly defeated an amendment to acknowledge that some "people of good conscience" have qualms about the lack of a rape-and-incest provision. Democrats are encouraging party members to vote their conscience on a matter of "personal conscience and personal faith."

The South Dakota Medical Association weighed in last month, too, saying it "strongly condemns interference by the government or other third parties that causes a physician to compromise his or her medical judgment as to what information or treatment is in the best interest of patients." The medical association said the "scientific basis for the bill's enactment is flawed" and "potentially criminalizes the provision of medical care and procedures that may be in the best interest of patients."

Leslee Unruh, a national leader in the abstinence-only sex-education movement, is taking a leave from her post in Sioux Falls to lead the campaign for the new abortion law. Unruh, who had an abortion in 1977 when she was 22, has turned her abstinence and abortion activism into political power. She displays a picture of her and President Bush, taken at the White House, and says she hopes to get Bush to South Dakota to campaign for the law.

At the same time, she is critical of the failure of national Republicans to support the South Dakota abortion ban.

"Republicans can find another way to win elections. And the national pro-life movement didn't do this, we did. When we overturn Roe, and we will, it will be because of these women here. The killing stops here."

Maria Bell, a gynecological oncologist at Sioux Valley Hospital who is actively opposing the law, has shifted her two children from Catholic school to public school because of taunts from other students. And she said her parents have revised their will to remove the Catholic diocese as a beneficiary; the money will go instead to Planned Parenthood.

"Three years ago, I had a case that would be felony under this law," she said, shaking her head. If the law stands, she said more women would have unsafe abortions or use dangerous medicines obtained on the Internet to try to end pregnancies.

"If you're a 16-year-old girl on the farm, where do you go?

"I truly believe this is about the subjugation of women, period," Bell said.

Both sides in South Dakota's abortion battle predict a nasty, noisy campaign, with lots of money and supporters from out of state.

"It will be heavily waged. It will be messy," said Elaine Roberts, a Democratic legislator and former teacher active in the effort to repeal the law. "But I really think that in the end, South Dakotans will look at this and say, 'It's not the best public policy.'

"But then, what next? This isn't the end."

On that, Miles, the Democratic representative campaigning for the law, agrees.

"I'm guessing this won't go away," she said. "Hopefully, this will go to the Supreme Court. That was the intent going into it."

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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