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Abortions' health impact at issue on S. Dakota ballot

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published November 3, 2006


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The rival sides in South Dakota's historic vote on abortion each contend their position protects women's health - an old argument on the abortion rights side but a new campaign tactic for antiabortion advocates that has significantly changed the debate.

At stake is a South Dakota law passed earlier this year that would ban virtually all abortions. Voters will decide Tuesday whether to reject this toughest-in-the-nation ban or uphold it, which could trigger a lawsuit that could lead to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The vote also could serve as a barometer, watched by activists nationwide, gauging the effectiveness of the distinctive pro-ban strategy. Rather than stressing an unborn child's right to live or vilifying abortion providers, the Vote Yes For Life campaign has focused on depicting abortion as psychologically harmful to women.

"Support Women's Health," says the campaign Web site. Its ads feature women detailing their post-abortion despair.

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which opposes the abortion ban, says there is no scientific evidence of pervasive psychological or medical problems among women who had abortions.

"The marketing is ingenious on their part," said Dr. Maria Bell, a Sioux Falls gynecological oncologist who opposes the ban. She said she thinks it jeopardizes women's health, because it would allow abortions only to save a women's life, with no exceptions for other health factors or for rape or incest.

" 'Abortion hurts women' - that's a great slogan, but they don't have the data to back that up," Bell said. "They have a lot of stories, but we don't make public policies on anecdotal evidence."

However, hundreds of women who had abortions provided their information to a South Dakota task force, which concluded abortion should be banned because it is "destructive of the rights, interests and health of women."

The chief of the pro-ban campaign, Leslee Unruh, talks often of regrets over an abortion she had and says "the time has passed for any other strategy" by the antiabortion movement.

Abortion rights activists have been forced to acknowledge that many women struggle emotionally after abortions, but they say many do not. "There's no denying there are women who have painful reactions," said Susan Cohen of the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. "That doesn't invalidate the opposite feeling millions of women have, of relief at being able to move on with their lives."

Nationally, groups like Silent No More and Operation Outcry are mobilizing women who had abortions to campaign against abortion rights, often using words like "empowerment" that recall previous feminist campaigns.

"My experience, personally and with thousands of other women, is that abortion under any circumstances doesn't typically leave you a better person," said Georgette Forney of Sewickley, Pa., who had an abortion at 16 ."Is abortion a good health policy for women? Over and over again, the answer is clearly no."

[Last modified November 3, 2006, 02:04:58]


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