South Dakota ban: taking the long view

On March 6, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed a law banning nearly all abortions in the state—the most restrictive state measure enacted since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. The ban, which was scheduled to go into effect on July 1, included no provision for rape or incest, or to protect the health of the pregnant woman, and only an unusually narrow exception to “prevent the death” of the woman.

Women’s rights supporters throughout South Dakota banded together and collected tens of thousands of signatures, enough to temporarily halt implementation of the legislation, and to refer the law to the voters on Nov. 7.

Now we’re organizing to reverse the law at the ballot box, and polling shows that we’re in a position to win the vote. But here’s the catch: voters believe the ban “goes too far” because there is no rape or incest exception. The same polls show that the ban would be approved if it had those exceptions, even without a health exception and without regard for other circumstances of women’s lives.

But this campaign can’t be about rape and incest, even though those are winning arguments in the short term. Granted, if your message-crafting is based primarily on focus groups and polling, that is no doubt the strongest argument. But it is a shortsighted (and expensive) one because even if the ban is defeated on those narrow grounds, the legislature will simply pass another ban next year which has ONLY those two exceptions. And we would have the expense (both financial and human capital) of fighting another referendum next year without the benefit of those arguments.

In our South Dakota organizing, we are making a strong argument for protecting our health and respecting women’s need to plan their families, while also appealing to those voters for whom the idea of “government intrusion” into personal decisions is anathema. It’s not too late for you to help.

Kim Gandy is president of the National Organization for Women. This article is reprinted from the online National NOW Times. For information or to help with this campaign, see .