Voters will decide future of South Dakota's abortion ban

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Small group protests petition drive
Karen Nelson holds the sign that says she regrets her abortion. Nelson is confident the majority of South Dakotans support the abortion ban law.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

A meeting room in down town Sioux Falls is crowded with reporters and photographers. The press conference announcing a state-wide petition drive seems rushed. Organizers say that's because there's lots to do. They have to train the dozens of volunteers who showed up to collect signatures.

A cross section of political leaders, health care workers and other political activists have come together under one umbrella. They call themselves South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families -- a group of people who are concerned about how the abortion ban would affect South Dakota women and families.

State Representative Elaine Roberts, Sioux Falls, is one of the group's organizers.

"The legislature doesn't really reflect where the majority of South Dakotans stand on this particular issue," says Roberts. "I'm really pleased to be part of a grass roots effort to give back to the people of South Dakota their government. Their opportunity to say yea or nay on this piece of legislation."

Jan Nicolay and Elaine Roberts announce drive
Former S.D. Rep. Jan Nicolay, and Rep. Elaine Roberts, D-Sioux Falls, announce the plan to take the abortion ban to a public vote.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

Roberts says when it comes to abortion, lawmakers are on one side of the issue or the other.

"The vast majority of South Dakotans are somewhere in the middle. They have mixed feelings about this issue and I personally don't believe that their views are represented in HB-1215," says Roberts.

House Bill 1215 is the legislative bill number that was passed and signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike Rounds. South Dakota's law bans all abortions except in cases where a woman needs the procedure to save her life. Roberts says people need to understand what the bill says and what will happen if it goes into effect.

If organizers collect nearly 17,000 signatures by June 20, 2006, the law will not go into effect on July 1, 2006. The ballot initiative would let voters decide whether the abortion ban becomes law.

Leslie Unruh supports the abortion ban. She calls the petition drive a slap in the face of the legislative process. She says supporters of the abortion ban will turn this into a campaign to educate people about the effects of abortion.

A handful of people stand quietly outside the meeting room. Small children hold signs showing enlarged pictures of aborted fetuses. Karen Nelson is among them. Her black and white sign says, "I regret my abortion."

"The reason that I am out here today is to let the public know that abortion hurts women," says Nelson. "Yes there are people saying that it's all about choice but what about the choice of the unborn baby."

Nelson says she was young when she had an abortion and it changed everything.

"After my abortion my relationships with my brothers and sisters and my parents became distant and we were a very close family. I was in college at the time and I dropped out of college - unable to finish college. It affected me emotionally, and mentally and spiritually," says Nelson.

Nelson says she's confident that the people of South Dakota will uphold the ban.

A poll conducted earlier this month shows a majority of South Dakotans think the abortion ban is too harsh and 57 percent say they would vote to overturn the law.

Next week Planned Parenthood Federation of America will launch an initiative called "Stand with the States Campaign." The campaign will oppose proposed abortion bans in 11 other states. Officials with Planned Parenthood say they support South Dakota's petition drive.