South Dakotans Reject Abortion Measure
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 2:34 AM
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- South Dakota voters on Tuesday rejected the toughest abortion law in the land _ a measure that would have outlawed the procedure under almost any circumstances.
The Legislature passed the law last winter in an attempt to prompt a challenge aimed at getting the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Instead of filing a lawsuit, opponents gathered petition signatures to put the measure on the general election ballot for a statewide vote.
The measure drew money, volunteers and attention from national groups; combined spending by the two campaigns exceeded $4 million in a state with only about 750,000 people. Finance reports filed in the campaign's final week revealed that an unidentified donor had given at least $750,000 to help the ban's supporters.
The campaign turned quickly from the overall issue of abortion rights when opponents attacked the law as extreme, arguing that it goes too far because it would not allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of a pregnant woman.
Supporters countered that the law would allow doctors to protect the lives of pregnant women with medical problems. They also argued that rape and incest victims would be protected by a provision that says nothing in the abortion ban would prevent women from getting emergency contraceptives up to the point a pregnancy could be determined.
The measure gave new hope to those who believe passionately that abortion must be stopped, said Leslee Unruh, leader of the campaign organization supporting the ban.
"They are energetic. They've waited a long time for a day like this to come, where they all come together and work to do something," Unruh said late in the campaign.
Jan Nicolay, a former state lawmaker who led the group opposing the measure, said she was surprised at the fervor the ban roused in those who believe in abortion rights.
"I think we probably lit a match and we got a spark going that I don't think people anticipated would happen," Nicolay said when her group succeeded in getting the law referred to a statewide vote.
The debate split not only the general public, but also the medical community. Ads run by both sides featured doctors giving their interpretations of the law.
Regardless of the election outcome, the battle is expected to continue. If voters approve the ban, the measure likely will be challenged in court. If the ban is rejected, lawmakers opposed to abortion could pass a less restrictive measure next year.