CommunityPam's House Blend

Down and Dirty in South Dakota

[Nancy in NYC here. I figured that with Jay covering the evening, I would take care of all you truly late-night folks just logging in after watching the Mets/Cards game.]

Things sure are getting ugly in SD. The hot item at the polls there this November is a ballot measure on Referred Law 6, that draconian anti-abortion bill that was passed by the SD legislature soon after Alito took his seat on the Supreme Court. It bans all abortion in SD except for cases where a doctor can prove that a woman’s life is at risk. (More about why that isn’t really very comforting in just a second.)

If South Dakotans vote “yes” on 6, the measure will go into effect as law, at which point the wingers are hoping it will be contested in court, make it up to the Supremes, and overturn Roe. v Wade. It they vote no, SD will continue to implement the pre-HB 1215 law in place: in theory, it allows a pregnant woman to obtain an abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, though in this case it does so in a state where so few doctors perform abortions that Planned Parenthood flies someone in from Minnesota once a month.

It’s no real surprise that the Vote Yes for Life campaign has been up to Lee Atwater-style dirty tricks all this past week. After all, one of their leaders is Leslee Unruh, a a longtime anti-choice, pro-abstinence activist. Her accomplishements, Cristina Page reminds us, include having started a “crisis pregnancy center” in Sioux Falls, S.D., “about which there were so many complaints that the governor had her investigated. Unruh pleaded no contest to unlicensed adoption and foster care practices as part of a plea bargain in which 19 charges, including four felonies, were dropped. The charges resulted from Unruh’s promises to pay teenagers if they remained pregnant so she could put their babies up for adoption.”

Just last week Vote Yes for Life released a honey of an ad called “South Dakota Physicians Tell the Truth About Referred Law 6” that features 9 white-coated men and women who disperse misinformation like “Science now proves that life begins at conception” and “Ninety-six percent of all abortions performed in South Dakota are for birth control.” But the real kicker comes from a guy named Dr. Mark A. Rector, who tells the complete lie that “Referred law 6 does provide exceptions for a woman’s life and health.”

Thanks to the blogosphere, we now know that Rector turns out to be Unruh’s son-in-law (who else would risk a lawsuit like that?), and that 3 of the 9 “South Dakota physicians” who are “telling the truth about referred law 6” aren’t licensed in SD (hat tip to an anonymous Feministing reader).

As Ann at Feministing notes, the good news is that an article in yesterday’s Rapid City Journal calls the Vote Yes for Life liars on their bullshit. Pressed to explain the ad’s claims, Dr. Don Oliver, a Rapid City pediatrician who appears in the advertisement, is forced to offer the tortured logic that “the law would protect women’s health by preventing the physical and long-term emotional damage caused by abortion.”

But when some brave soul pressed on and asked if Referred Law 6 would allow a pregnant woman with serious health problems who wasn’t in immediate danger of dying to obtain an intentional abortion:

Oliver wouldn’t answer directly. “I’m not an obstetrician,” he said. “I can’t address specific medical conditions, other than to say they’re extremely rare … exceedingly rare.” When asked the same question again, Oliver said: “I’m not going to get backed into a corner for something that hardly even exists.”

Of course, abortions for health reasons are not rare at all. The Guttmacher Institute, which is well known for doing real research with real data, one in 14 abortions is sought for health reasons. Unfortunately, the number of hospitals that will refuse a health-related abortion to a woman is growing (nearly 20 percent of hospital beds are in facilities with religious affiliations).

These statistics from an excellent recent article from the July 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal that real doctors read and write for, and it gives us a glimpse of the kind of treatment South Dakota’s women can expect from the Dr. Olivers of the world if their fellow citizens do indeed vote “yes for life” on referred law 6.

In 1998, the Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport refused to provide an abortion for Michelle Lee, a woman with cardiomyopathy who was on the waiting list for a heart transplant, despite her cardiologist’s warning that the pregnancy might kill her. Hospital policy dictated that to qualify for an abortion, a woman’s risk of dying had to be greater than 50 percent if her pregnancy was carried to term; a committee of physicians ruled that Lee did not meet this criterion. Since her cardiomyopathy made an outpatient abortion too dangerous, she traveled 100 miles to Texas by ambulance to have her pregnancy terminated.

I betcha that Dr. Oliver—he is a doctor, right?—is well acquainted with these facts. But who cares if you lie and kill women for the unborn, right?

But, as Ann also notes, per the web site of the pro-choice South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, the dirty tricks just keep coming.

* Vote Yes campaign operatives are destroying literature from candidates that don’t agree with the abortion ban and replacing it with their own literature (Yankton)

* Abortion ban supporters are misdirecting voters to a bogus website called that says ‘We Support the Abortion Ban!’ in the hopes of confusing people with the Campaign for Healthy Families REAL website,

* Vote Yes volunteers have been blocking traffic in several church parking lots and continuing to distribute literature after church leaders asked them to leave (Rapid City)

* Vote Yes signs have been placed on people’s property without their permission or illegally on government property (Sioux Falls)

And the bad news may get even worse. There’s a rumor going around that the very same Rapid city Journal that calls the Vote Yes for Life people out today has, per Clean Cut Kid, accepted a deal to send out pre-election newspapers in “yes on 6” wrappers:

Oh, if only Stephanie McMillan had the energy to draw one of her brilliant cartoons every time some asshat opened his mouth in South Dakota.

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