South Dakotans reject abortion ban

Leslee Unruh
Leslee Unruh is chairman of Vote Yes For Life, a group that unsuccessfully lobbied for a referendum banning nearly all abortions in South Dakota.
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Opponents of the abortion ban in South Dakota see the vote as a warning to lawmakers in other states who want to over turn Roe v. Wade. That's the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. Sarah Stoetz is the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Stoetz says when South Dakota passed the abortion ban earlier this year, there were 16 other states attempting the same thing. She says when opponents collected enough signatures to put the law to a public vote, the other lawmakers dropped their legislation.

"The fact that the people in this conservative state are rebelling against this kind of cynical political move is very significant and I think it sends a strong message to everyone in the country," Stoetz said.

The law in South Dakota banned nearly all abortions except to save the life of the pregnant woman. Lawmakers made no secret that it was written for the sole purpose to challenge Roe v. Wade. Opponents were intending to sue but then gathered signatures to put the law in the hands of South Dakota voters. Stoetz says while she expects lawmakers to continue to debate how to restrict abortions, she doesn't expect the issue in January's legislative session.

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"I think they're going to be much more reluctant to take up this kind of divisive legislation," she said. "I don't think anyone wants to put the state through this again. It's been a tough summer and fall for everybody. I think the people are tired of it. They don't want to debate it again. They've done what they have to do and they want to put this issue aside. And I think it will be."

But in a warehouse in Sioux Falls' business district there's a different opinion. Roger Hunt is a state representative. He sponsored the abortion ban. And he just won his bid for re-election. He says he's not ready with a game plan just yet.

"I've got to do some homework, the legislature is going to have to do some homework. But we've got to protect over 800 unborn children every year. To me that's a reasonable goal. That's a worthwhile goal," Hunt said.

It was less than an hour after the abortion ban went down, but the longer Hunt talked the more ideas he came up with on how to achieve his goal.

Hunt says there are other ways to eliminate abortions in South Dakota. Currently, there is only one clinic in the state that performs abortions. That's the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Sioux Falls.

"I know, for example, that the department of health is in the process of adopting regulations regulating abortion clinics. Now that's not legislature that's regulation but those regulations may generate the need for other statutes on which the department can base other regulations. The field is wide open at this point on what the legislature might do," Hunt said.

Both sides of the abortion debate ran a civil campaign. Many voters expected much worse. Leslee Unruh chaired the group fighting to keep the ban law. She says she's not going to stop talking about how abortions hurt women. And now that the campaign is over, she can tell the rest of the story.

"I want you to know the gloves are coming off and I'm going to educate South Dakota on what happens at that abortion clinic. The women who took the stage tonight are women who have had abortions at Planned Parenthood and they've got stories that no veterinarian clinic would be able to operate under," Unruh said.

Unruh says there will be an announcement in the next week about what a group of women are planning. She won't be specific but she hints that it has to do with a lawsuit against Planned Parenthood.