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2006-11-03

South Dakota Votes on Most Restrictive Abortion Law in Country: A Debate

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On Election Day, voters in South Dakota will be asked to consider implementing the most restrictive abortion law in the country. A law passed earlier this year made it a felony for health providers to perform abortions–even in cases of rape or incest–unless the procedure is necessary to prevent the death of the mother. But pro-choice advocates managed to block the state from enacting the law. They collected about 38,000 signatures to force a statewide referendum. We go to South Dakota and neighboring Minneapolis to hear from both sides of the debate. [includes rush transcript]

On Election Day, voters in South Dakota will be asked to consider implementing the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Earlier this year South Dakota lawmakers passed a near total ban on abortions. The law made it a felony for health providers to perform abortions–even in cases of rape or incest–unless the procedure is necessary to prevent the death of the mother Under the law, doctors could face up to five years in prison and a five thousand dollar fine for performing an abortion. But pro-choice advocates managed to block the state from enacting the law. They collected about 38,000 signatures to force a statewide referendum. Observers around the country see the battle in South Dakota as a bellwether for what can happen in other states — at least a dozen states have similar legislation pending.

Today–we hear from both sides. The Campaign for Healthy Families and Planned Parenthood declined to debate the issue–so first we go to South Dakota where a representative of the Vote Yes For Life Campaign joins us. Dr. Allen Unruh is a chiropractor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He is co-founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, and served on the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion. He joins us from Sioux Falls.

  • Dr. Allen Unruh. Dr. Allen Unruh is a chiropractor in in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He is the co-founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, and served on the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion. He is a member of the Vote Yes For Life Campaign.

As we continue our discussion on the South Dakota abortion vote, Sarah Stoesz joins us now from Minneapolis — she is the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Planned Parenthood has been deeply involved in the issue. The organization’s clinic in Sioux Falls is the only clinic in South Dakota that currently performs abortions. Doctors from neighboring Minnesota come to the clinic eight days a month.

  • Sarah Stoesz. President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we hear from both sides. The Campaign for Healthy Families and Planned Parenthood declined to debate the issue, so first we go to South Dakota, where a representative of the Vote Yes For Life Campaign joins us. Dr. Allen Unruh is a chiropractor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, co-founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, served on the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion. He joins us from Sioux Falls. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dr. Unruh.

Can you talk about the significance of this bill? Can you hear us, sir?

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: Okay. Will you repeat that question?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Can you talk about the significance of this bill, this referendum?

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: Well, first of all, I want to make a slight correction in there. Planned Parenthood has put this entire campaign on rape and incest. Research has shown one out of a thousand cases of rape victims become pregnant, and out of 146 cases of rape that occurred in South Dakota last year, we’re talking about one person out of approximately 819 abortions. The law does provide options for that rape victim. They can go to a doctor for up to ten days or two weeks to receive emergency contraception or medication to prevent conception and/or implantation. So they’ve got plenty of time to prevent that pregnancy. And there’s no rape or incest victim that has to carry or be forced to carry a child. But we’re only talking about one-tenth of one percent of the cases that occur in this state.

AMY GOODMAN: And, in those cases, are you saying that the person would have to carry the child of her rapist?

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: Well, in those cases, first of all, they do have plenty of time to see a doctor. Research has shown, from the Task Force, that approximately 60% to 70% of rape victims choose life for their child. We don’t think a person should be forced to an abortion, just because they’ve been a victim of a sex crime. Adding compound —

AMY GOODMAN: Not forced, but if they wanted to have one.

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: Okay, if the person — once conception has taken place, if they refuse to go to a doctor, if they’re too emotionally traumatized, most women who have testified before the Task Force said the abortion was way more traumatic than the rape.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the battle over this referendum, to what degree has it become a major issue throughout your state?

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: Yes, it has. I mean, we’re talking about a decision on life or death. A civilization is judged by how it treats its weak and its helpless. The legislature debated this issue. We have done a tremendous amount of research on how abortion impacts women. We researched over 3,500 pages of scientific studies. Thousands of affidavits of women who were victims of abortion were considered. We heard from 54 national and international experts that testified before abortion — before this committee. And the research is in now, that not only does abortion terminate the life of a separate, distinct living human being, which we can now prove scientifically — it’s not a matter of philosophy or religion. Everything about you is there at the beginning. And abortion hurts women dramatically. And it allows for exploitation of women, and it hurts them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Allen Unruh, how are you organizing for the vote on the referendum? How are you organizing for your Vote Yes For Life Campaign? Where do you stand in the polls right now? Are you getting a lot of support in the state and outside?

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: We are getting support in the state, and 65% of our support comes from in-state. Planned Parenthood, 90% of their support came from out-of-state. We have a tremendous groundswell of people that are helping us help save the unborn and also help protect women.

AMY GOODMAN: And how much money is coming in and what kind of support are you getting from outside of the state? What organizations are helping you most?

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: Well, we have people from all over the — people giving $25, $50, from different interviews that we’ve done alerting people. The whole world is watching South Dakota. We’ve had people from Europe and France and Spain and Japan has been here. Abortion kills about 50 million unborn babies in the world. Nationwide, we’ve killed almost 50 million in this country. And so, people are very concerned about this issue. It’s a civil rights issue of the century, just like slavery. They said the black people weren’t human beings at one time, the Supreme Court did. And we fought a civil war to change that. And in one respect, they say you’re not human, based on the size of a person. And so, this is a civil war of the century.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the whole issue of trying to criminalize the actions of doctors who perform abortions? You’re a doctor yourself. What impact has this had within your profession, in terms of the state intervening in this way in medical decisions?

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: Well, ironically, we’ve had almost 200 doctors that came forward. They have no problem with this bill. They take the Oath of Hippocrates to protect human life. Indeed, for two centuries the Oath of Hippocrates said you should not abort a child. The past abortionist — if abortion is so great, how come not one doctor in our state will do abortions? They’re fighting for the rights of a rogue doctor to fly into our state and destroy 30 babies and leave with a bag of cash out of town. The former abortionist who did provide abortions in South Dakota now has come out strongly against abortion. She said it’s time to end abortion. It does not help women. It destroys a human life. And so, we’ve got compelling evidence from doctors throughout our state that are very comfortable with this law.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Unruh, I want to thank you very much. I want to play for you the advertisement from South Dakota Campaigns for Healthy Families and get your response.

CAMPAIGN AD: …about the new abortion ban? Get the facts from doctors right here in South Dakota. According to the South Dakota section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the ban includes no exception for rape victims, no exception for victims of incest, no exception to protect a woman’s health. Our states Ob/Gyns urge the repeal of this ban that harms the women of South Dakota. Vote no on Referred Law 6. It just goes too far.

AMY GOODMAN: One last response, Dr. Unruh, on that ad.

DR. ALLEN UNRUH: Well, first of all, that ad is very deceptive, because it’s very clear in the language that women do have options, who are victims of rape and incest. This is entitled the Women’s and Child’s Protection Act. And so, to say that there are no options for rape or incest is complete deception. It’s wrong. The language is very clear. They’re counting on people not looking at the language of the law. We’re talking about an unborn child here that has all the characteristics of you and me. It has brainwaves identical to you and me. At twelve weeks, it can suck its thumb, it can make a fist. And it has all the functions that all of us have. All it needs is time. So, that ad is deceptive, and we want to get the truth out to the people.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there with you, and I want to thank you very much for joining us from Sioux Falls. […]

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, we continue our discussion on the South Dakota abortion vote. Sarah Stoesz joins us now from Minneapolis. She is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Planned Parenthood has been deeply involved in the issue. The organization’s clinic in Sioux Falls is the only clinic in South Dakota that currently performs abortions. Doctors from neighboring Minnesota come to the clinic eight days a month.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to Sarah Stoesz, we wanted to play the advertisement from the Vote Yes For Life Campaign.

DR. YVONNE SEGER: We’re all doctors here in South Dakota.

DR. WILLIAM WALTZ: Science now proves that life begins at conception.

DR. BRIAN KIDMAN: Over 96% of abortions performed in South Dakota are for birth control.

DR. JOSIE ALBERS: Referred Law 6 addresses these situations.

DR. MARK RECTOR: This measure does provide exception for the life and the health of the mother.

DR. DON OLIVER: And the morning after pill may be taken in any event.

DR. KATHY HOFER: Including sexual assault or incest.

DR. CHARLES SHAFER: Referred Law 6 is a caring approach to protecting women.

DR. STEPHEN BILLION: And limiting abortion performed as birth control in South Dakota.

DOCTORS: Abortion stops a beating heart. Vote yes on Referred Law 6.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the anti-choice campaign. In a minute we’re going to be joined by Sarah Stoesz, who now does join us in the studio, Planned Parenthood Minnesota. Thank you very much for joining us. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Can you talk about the state of your campaign right now to stop the bill from being enacted into law in South Dakota?

SARAH STOESZ: I think the thing that’s most interesting and maybe instructive about this and perhaps transformative for South Dakota is that, although South Dakota is no stranger to abortion politics — it’s been a state that’s been drifting to the political right for some years now — when the legislature went so far and the governor, Mike Rounds, went so far as to actually pass and sign a bill that ban all abortions in South Dakota, with no exception, what happened was that thousands and thousands of South Dakotans became infuriated by this and came together to form the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families.

Now, Planned Parenthood, of course, operates the sole abortion care facility in South Dakota, and, as you know, we fly doctors in from Minnesota, because of the hostile climate in South Dakota, and we are dedicated to continuing that care. We also provide a wide range of reproductive healthcare in our clinic in South Dakota and in Rapid City, as well.

But in the past, the expression of political support for our work has been, I guess it would be fair to say, muted. However, once the ban was passed, and because the ban is so utterly extreme, in spite of what the Allen Unruh says — it has no exceptions in it whatsoever — the political climate rapidly shifted, and thousands of people came together to form our campaign. They collected well over twice the number of signatures that were needed to get the law on the ballot in record time, well before they were due. And so, there’s been quite a bit of ground shifting going on in South Dakota. I have to say that it was surprising to us, because South Dakota is so absolutely conservative in so many ways. But this bill is so extreme and far-reaching that it was too much for people in South Dakota to stomach. So, the campaign is in very, very good shape at this point.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sarah Stoesz, what about the allegations of Dr. Unruh that yours is largely a campaign coming from outside of the state, both in terms of the money and in terms of the people that are organizing it and seeking to impose your will on the people of South Dakota?

SARAH STOESZ: Well, first of all, the law was passed as a vehicle to use to overturn Roe v. Wade. That was its stated purpose. And so, because it was stated as a bill to overturn Roe v. Wade — and they did that because Planned Parenthood, of course — we will keep our doors open. We will not allow this law to go into effect. We will file a lawsuit if the election is lost. We absolutely will not abandon the women of South Dakota. So, we’ve been clear from the beginning that we would file a lawsuit to challenge this obviously unconstitutional law. So, when the legislature passed, the proponents began talking about it as the national vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is not surprising, therefore, that people all around the country would take a lot of interest in this, because people well beyond the borders of South Dakota have a lot of concern about whether Roe v. Wade is overturned and whether a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions is preserved or not. So, the law was intended to be a national debate, number one.

Number two, the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families certainly has raised money outside of South Dakota. We have also raised quite a lot of money inside South Dakota, and we have approximately 10,000 South Dakota contributors to our campaign. So, it’s not an insignificant number of people that are participating in the campaign in South Dakota.

And, number three, it appears that the Vote Yes For Life Campaign is obscuring the basis of some of their own contributions. About three-quarter of a million dollars came through the law offices of Roger Hunt, who is the legislator who was the author of the bill. And the money didn’t come from Roger Hunt, but came from elsewhere, so clearly came from some sources that they’re trying to obscure.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Stoesz, I want to thank you for being with us, president, CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

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