What Happened in South Dakota?

Director Joe Scheidler

From the Director’s Desk

Last February the representatives of the people of South Dakota voted to ban abortion in their state. On March 6 Governor Mike Rounds signed the bill into law. It outlawed all abortions except those to prevent the death of the mother, but with the caveat to try to save both mother and child. Planned Parenthood, which runs the only abortion clinic in South Dakota, didn’t seem to know quite what to do. They weren’t sure they could get the bill declared unconstitutional if they rushed into court to challenge it. Instead, they began to collect signatures to get the issue on the November ballot as a referendum.

South Dakota pro-lifers sprang into action with a massive educational campaign. They produced billboards, yard signs, T-shirts, bumper stickers and leaflets. While abortion advocates descended on South Dakota to help Planned Parenthood get the required 16,728 signatures, pro-lifers came from out-of-state to help make South Dakota the first abortion-free state.

Fierce Battled Raged in South Dakota

During the spring and summer, the battle in South Dakota became fierce. Leaders of the effort to keep the abortion ban were threatened; their offices and their homes were vandalized by pro-abortionists. But they did not back down. In September I addressed the South Dakota Right to Life convention in Sioux Falls. That organization was recovering from an internal struggle with National Right to Life over the scope of the abortion ban. National is a firm believer in the incremental approach to outlawing abortion and recommends including exceptions to get broader support. The wording the South Dakotans chose was a near total ban.

Pro-lifers at Mt Rushmore

Pro-Lifers at Mt. Rushmore: Ann and Joe Scheidler with South Dakotans Jean and Al Carlson

Over a hundred pro-lifers attended the September convention. They were committed to making history as the first state in the Union to outlaw abortion and they believed they had a good chance at success.

But Planned Parenthood had not yet pulled out its big guns. I returned to South Dakota in October—this time to the western part of the state, Rapid City, for a rally in support of the abortion ban. Everywhere I looked there were banners and signs proclaiming, “Vote Yes for Life.” But on television I saw sophisticated Planned Parenthood ads aimed at undermining the Vote Yes claim that abortion is harmful to women. Planned Parenthood’s ads countered with an emotional appeal that women need abortion for those sad, tragic cases where their health is endangered by a pregnancy. They used “doctors” to make their appeal and called the law “extreme.”

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Pro-Life Campaign Makes Fatal Mistake

On November 7 Planned Parenthood’s message won out—not by much, but by enough to defeat the referendum—56% to 44%. So abortion remains legal in South Dakota, although no South Dakota doctor performs abortions. The abortion clinic flies in an abortionist from Minnesota.

But South Dakota pro-lifers vow to try again. What will they do differently? The leaders of the Vote Yes for Life campaign had made a decision early on to focus on the harm abortion does to the pregnant mother. They apparently thought it was a more compelling argument than emphasizing what abortion does to the baby. They opposed the use of graphic pictures of abortion to show their citizens what happens to the unborn baby. That, I believe, was their fatal mistake.

By concentrating only on the woman, they handed Planned Parenthood an entree into the debate. Planned Parenthood, as always, could casually ignore the violent killing of the unborn child by abortion. All they had to do was wring their hands about the women whose pregnancies pose any kind of a problem—physical, mental or emotional. They could simply blow these out of proportion and call the law dangerous to women’s health. They did not have to face the dead baby at all. And neither did the electorate.

South Dakotans Must See Abortion

In their next attempt, South Dakota pro-lifers must take an aggressive approach to bring the reality of abortion to every resident of the state. When voters get another opportunity to cast a vote for or against abortion, they must have firmly implanted in their minds the image of a tiny, helpless infant who has been heartlessly torn to pieces. They need to know exactly what abortion does to a baby—and that they must vote to put an end to it.

The Pro-Life Action League stands ready to help educate South Dakotans with Face the Truth Tours all over the state. South Dakota is famous for the huge presidential faces carved on the side of Mount Rushmore. I want to make certain they also see large graphic images of the faces of aborted babies before they once again consider whether they want to keep abortion legal in their state, or make history by outlawing this barbaric practice.

In our visual society we all need to see the victim of a crime or disaster to understand the gravity of it. The media shows us the graphic reality of wars, famines, tsunamis, the aftermath of hurricanes, the fall of the Twin Towers. But they will not show the victims of abortion. So the pro-life movement must. I believe South Dakotans will make another effort to pass a strong bill to outlaw all abortions in their state. They must not weaken the law with rape and incest exceptions, as some pro-life strategists are suggesting. They must keep the bill as it is. And they must educate the people of South Dakota by using the most effective tool they have—the graphic pictures of what abortion—every abortion—really is: the killing of children.

We are prepared to link up with other activist pro-life groups to bring this most important message to the people of South Dakota in every town and city and out on the country roads. I believe it is doable. Let’s help South Dakota do it.

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