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State voters decided Tuesday not to impose a near-total ban on abortions in South Dakota, rejecting on a 56 percent to 44 percent vote a law that was certain to be challenged in court.

Referred Law 6, which was approved by the state Legislature as HB1215, signed by Gov. Mike Rounds and referred to a public vote after a petition drive by opponents, would have prohibited abortions in the state except when needed to save a pregnant woman's life.

With 784 of 818 precincts reported statewide, voters had cast 168,577 no votes and 135,157 yes votes.

Opponents led by the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families mounted an eight-month campaign that condemned the law as an unconstitutional infringement on reproductive rights that provided no exceptions for women who became pregnant through rape or incest or faced serious health problems.

Former state Rep. Jan Nicolay of Chester, a co-chair of Healthy Families, said her group's presentation of the facts on Referred Law 6 led to the victory.

"I think it's the fact that we kept our campaign professional, and I think we stayed on message, trying to educate the people," she said. "I don't think people think government should be telling them what to do. I just think we stuck to the facts, and that's hard to argue with."

Nicolay said that in the end, voters heard her organization's message that the ban was too extreme and out of touch with the feelings of a majority of South Dakotans.

She and other opponents of the law focused on the lack of exceptions and charged supporters of the ban with deceitful advertising that implied there were exceptions that didn't exist.

Referred Law 6 supporter Al Carlson of Rapid City, director of the anti-abortion group Citizens for Life, said he believed that opponents of the law had themselves used "all kinds of deceits" to divert the attention of voters from the fact that most abortions are performed because women don't want or think they can't afford a child.

"The arguments they made about rape and incest and health were pretty much red herrings," Carlson said. "They were rare or nonexistent."

Regardless of the vote, Carlson said the long and often-contentious campaign was worth the effort.

"It was a long, tenuous battle coming down to the end. Both sides gave it all they had," Carlson said. "I guess our side was in it to save as many souls as possible, along with the unborn innocents. In the long run, God's hand will be on this, if not tonight, then somewhere down the line."

Nicolay said her organization, which was formed last spring, had to play catch-up against long-standing anti-abortion groups in the early part of the campaign.

"We're a new organization. We didn't have 25 years to organize. But we had a tremendous number of volunteers, just unbelievable," Nicolay said. "Our people put in double shifts. They did whatever they had to do."

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

Supporters of the law appeared to have an uphill fight from the start. In a statewide poll of 630 South Dakota voters last spring, 57 percent said they would vote to repeal the law and 35 percent said they would support it. But 59 percent of respondents in that same poll said they would have support the ban if it allowed exceptions for rape and incest victims, with only 29 percent opposed and 14 percent undecided.

Some supporters of the ban had suggested that a future Legislature could approve another ban with rape and incest exceptions. When asked about that, Nicolay said: "I think it depends on the make-up of the Legislature."

Article from Rapid City Journal

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