Nov 13, 2006
South Dakota voters defeated the state’s near total ban on abortion in last Tuesday’s election. In February 2006, the state legislature had passed a law banning abortions for any reason whatsoever except where the life of the mother was in danger. No exceptions were made for rape, incest or health problems. This law was just overturned by a popular referendum, 56 to 44%.
Almost as soon as the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 threw out all state laws that banned abortion outright, state and federal laws started chipping away at the right to a legal abortion, imposing all kinds of legal, medical and financial restrictions. Not to mention the outright harassment – legal and extra legal – that has shut down women’s health clinics in large areas of the country eliminating access to abortion. In South Dakota itself, Planned Parenthood has only one clinic that provides abortions. The doctors doing the abortions are brought in from another state because the atmosphere in South Dakota has been so threatening against doctors who used to provide abortions.
South Dakota was chosen as the testing ground against women’s right to choose abortion because of its conservative tradition: voting for every Republican president since 1940 except for one election. In 2004, Bush beat Kerry by 20percentage points in South Dakota.
This February the South Dakota state legislators passed the anti-abortion law by two-thirds of both houses. Expecting that women’s groups would challenge their law in the courts, they hoped the case could make it to the Supreme Court. With two new conservatives on the Supreme Court, the anti-abortion forces thought they could finally find a way to overturn Roe v. Wade. So the issue was watched by supporters of women’s right to choose and opponents from around the country.
The pro-choice forces began their South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families in March, knocking on doors all over the state to get signatures for a referendum to go on the ballot this November. They needed 16,728 signatures. They collected over 38,000. So even though South Dakota is considered conservative, even though most of its economy is rural and military, the sentiment obviously exists to support a woman’s right to choose.
What happened with the ballot referendum shows that South Dakotans have opinions similar to every poll taken across the country on the abortion topic: a majority supports a woman’s right to abortion if that is her choice.
The possibility of keeping abortion legal and safe is increased when supporters don’t depend on the courts or state legislators. Obviously, even a ballot referendum can be turned against people. People who think that women should have the right to choose abortion must continue to mobilize to defend that right.