S. Dakota Becomes Abortion Focal Point

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 28, 2006

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Kayla Brandt had an abortion three years ago and instantly hated having done it. Now, hoping to stop other women from making the same choice, she is a public advocate for the most severe abortion ban in the nation.

"I don't want anyone to feel what I did," Brandt says.

Maria Bell is a Sioux Falls obstetrician-gynecologist who also joined the political fray for the first time, but on the opposite side. Appalled by the attempt to shut the state's only abortion clinic, she says she would not be able to live with herself unless she worked to overturn the law.

"To think passing a law will stop abortion is incredibly naive," Bell said.

South Dakota is the unlikely home of this year's most intense duel over abortion, a Nov. 7 referendum to decide the future of HB 1215, a measure that would institute a broad ban on the procedure. No exceptions would be allowed for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest -- abortion would be permitted only when the mother's life is in jeopardy.

Partisans across the nation are delivering money and tactical advice on an issue that has divided residents of the state. South Dakota's fight could be a harbinger of political battles across the country should the Supreme Court strike down Roe v. Wade , the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

"This has become the focal point in the country for the choice debate," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which is channeling cash into the campaign. "The stakes are very high, especially for us to win in November and again say America is pro-choice, America doesn't think politicians should be involved in these private decisions, and enough is enough."

A fresh poll suggests voters are inclined to oppose the law as too severe. In a late-July sounding, opponents of the ban held an eight-point lead, with 14 percent undecided.

"There's going to be a lot of money spent," said state Rep. Roger W. Hunt (R), the ban's chief sponsor, urging voters to defend the unborn. Pointing to the vivid statewide conversation over HB 1215, formally known as the Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act, he said, "There are a lot of people who have gotten very political because of HB 1215."

People such as Brandt, a 29-year-old financial auditor, who described a period of quiet misery after an abortion about three years ago. When the doctor finished, Brandt said, she felt an emptiness that led to a long year of grief.

Later, she decided to speak out, hoping to create what she called a "haven" for women and children in South Dakota by outlawing abortion. Her smiling face now appears on the letterhead of VoteYesForLife.com, the umbrella group mobilizing support for the ban.

"I was in a relationship and panicked and got scared and ashamed, and thought an abortion was the means to fix my mistake," said Brandt, who came to see herself as a "mother who was sadly stripped of her child."

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