South Dakota Abortion Ban May Backfire genre: Hip-Gnosis

The abortion debate

Many anti-abortion groups saw the near all-inclusive ban on abortions signed into law earlier this year in South Dakota as the vehicle by which they could eventually challenge the validity of Roe v. Wade before the United States Supreme Court. The ban provides an exception to save the life of the mother but it doesn't provide any exception for rape or incest. A new poll seems to indicate that the measure is unlikely to succeed...an outcome that would be a blow to the many supporters who had embraced the ban.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A scientific poll done last week for the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls showed that South Dakotans are leaning against a proposed ban on nearly all abortions in the state.

And the percentage of those who plan to vote no on the ballot measure has increased since the last such survey in July.

The poll of 800 registered voters found that 52 percent opposed the measure that overwhelmingly passed the 2006 Legislature. Forty-two percent favored the proposed ban on abortions, and just 6 percent were undecided.

The poll also found that the proposed ban on abortions would have more support if it allowed abortions in cases of rape and incest.

When the bill was proposed and signed, many felt the lack of exceptions would hurt the chances of voter approval but those in favor chose to take the risk, hoping that anti-abortion sentiment would be sufficient for voters to overlook the lack of exceptions. The poll supports the argument that voters do pay attention and while they may favor some limitations on abortions, they would prefer to do so with reasonable exceptions and they are prepared to reject measures that are perceived to be an overreach.

In the July poll, 59 percent of those against the ban or undecided said they would vote for it with a rape and incest exception, while 29 percent said no and, 12 percent were undecided.

The July to October poll probably helped spur the education and get-out-the-vote campaigns conducted by those on both sides of the issue, said Don Dahlin, associate professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.

Dahlin said the new poll indicates the two sides have split the difference in undecided voters.

"When you get over 52 percent, with as few undecideds and getting as close as we are (to the election), it does look like that the voters' opinion is against this bill," he said. "It is going to be a question of who's going to get their folks out to actually vote."

I would argue that should this measure fail, it will in the future be seen as a strategic error on the part of the pro-life movement. Should the midterm election signal a shift in the electorate towards a more moderate government as evidenced by voting the Democratic Party into power, it will be increasingly difficult for the pro-life movement to pass measures that seek to ban abortions...especially to the extent that might have been possible in South Dakota.

In my opinion, both sides of the abortion debate are locked into absolute positions that make it increasingly difficult to conduct a reasoned debate about any prudent limitations that give women ample choice but also compel them to make decisions about terminating a pregnancy sooner than later. Additionally, a civil dialogue could potentially lead to other less ideologically biased measures that might serve to limit abortions through education or expanded adoption programs. Unfortunately, the lack of trust and respect coming from both sides leaves little room for negotiation.

Daniel DiRito | October 30, 2006 | 2:44 PM
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