Petition drive to ban most abortions in South Dakota

About a dozen volunteers check signatures on petitions to verify they are from registered voters. A South Dakota organiziation opposed to legal abortion wants a ballot measure that would ban abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of a pregnant woman. They must get 17,000 signatures by April to get the measure on the November ballot.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

Volunteers for the Vote Yes for Life campaign, have been circulating petitions around the state since January. They must collect 17,000 signatures from registered voters by April first.

Leslie Unruh is a familiar face in the debate over abortions. She's been working to ban the procedure for 24 years and is again speaking out against what she calls abortion on demand.

Leslie Unruh (l) and Mary Glenski (r)
Leslie Unruh, left, and Mary Glenski, right, are spokespeople for the Vote Yes for Life campaign.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

"We have contacted legal experts all over this nation, and we've had 22 legal experts from our own state of South Dakota that have looked at this law along with our Attorney General," Unruh says. "We are giving the people of South Dakota what they want, based on the polling that we have done and the focus groups that we have done."

What South Dakota voters want, Unruh says, is an abortion ban with exceptions for the victims of rape and incest.

She says two years ago, South Dakota voters couldn't support a total abortion ban that only allowed for abortion to protect the life and health of a pregnant woman. 56 percent of the voters rejected the effort then.

Those against the new proposal to ban nearly all abortions say voters should carefully read the fine print in the ballot measure.

The proposed law would allow an abortion for the victims of rape or incest, only if they report the crime and allow authorities to take tissue samples from the fetus.

Jan Nicolay
Jan Nicolay, co-chairman of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

Jan Nicolay, co-chairman of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, is the spokesperson for the opposition.

"It is the cruelest and most callous approach to what it does to victims of rape and incest," Nicolay says. "It puts them through a bureaucratic process that is almost unforgivable in our eyes, in terms of those kinds of victims -- and then we victimize them again."

However those who favor the requirement say victims would not want to protect criminals.

Mary Glenski, a Democratic state representative from Sioux Falls, supports the abortion ban. She says nationally fewer than one percent of abortions are performed in cases involving rape or incest.

"I think that accomplishing the ending of abortion for birth control for example, would get rid of a great many of abortions," Glenski says. "I think percentage-wise, we're dealing with the vast majority of abortions that do occur."

South Dakota has the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, and Jan Nicolay says voters already settled the issue two years ago.

"We have parental notification, we have a mandatory waiting period. In addition to that, we have abortions prohibited after the first trimester, Nicolay says.

South Dakota lawmakers passed legislation this year that requires doctors to perform a sonogram before performing an abortion. Republica Gov. Mike Rounds has not yet signed the legislation.

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