(CNSNews.com) - National pro-abortion groups are mobilizing to defeat a South Dakota initiative on the November ballot that would ban abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother.
These groups see the initiative as the potential "first step" in a legal challenge to Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion-on-demand nationwide. The principal pro-life organizer behind the South Dakota initiative, meanwhile, does not dispute this perception.
"Let’s not kid ourselves," Nancy Keenan, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told reporters at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. "The people behind this effort (want) to make South Dakota the first step in a long-term campaign to mount a legal challenge to Roe (vs. Wade)."
Keenan was joined by two other national pro-abortion figures, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parent Action Fund, the political arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
"It seems desperate to me that they would hold a press conference in Washington, D.C.," Leslee Unruh, leader of the South Dakota organization behind Initiated Measure 11, "Vote Yes on Life," told CNSNews.com. Unruh said that calling national attention to her state's third attempt in almost as many years to ban abortion might backfire on the pro-abortion groups.
"Grassroots always trumps money in South Dakota," Unruh said. "People in South Dakota don't like it if they think someone nationally is trying to tell them what to do."
Two years ago, voters in South Dakota rejected a referendum for a complete ban on abortion by 56 percent to 44 percent.
Unruh said this year’s ballot measure was drafted after a statewide effort to gather voter opinion on why the 2006 ballot measure failed and what voters wanted to see in a new measure.
South Dakotans, she said, overwhelmingly indicated they did not want to see abortion used as birth control and that a ban would be acceptable as long as it included exceptions for rape, incest and if the life of the mother was at risk.
"Vote Yes for Life" gathered almost 60,000 signatures - more than three times the 17,000 required for inclusion on the ballot - and 48,000 signatures were officially turned in to the state.
At the Washington press conference, Richards echoed Keenan's concerns about South Dakota being a test case that could work its way to the Supreme Court.
"It is a cynical effort, I believe, by anti-choice groups to simply use the state of South Dakota and the voters of South Dakota to do their ultimate goal,” said Richards, “which is to challenge the fundamental right of women in this country that supported the right decision to make these personal decisions."
Unruh told CNSNews.com she is not hiding the fact that she would like to take a South Dakota abortion ban to the Supreme Court and challenge Roe v. Wade.
"The first (ballot measure) was designed for South Dakota and South Dakota only," Unruh said. "This time, it is designed to go to the Supreme Court."
South Dakota has been at the center of two other landmark actions related to abortion.
It sponsored the first state task force to study abortion and its effects on women, and a federal court recently upheld a 2005 South Dakota law that requires doctors to tell patients that an abortion will "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."
Alveda King, niece of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, have endorsed Initiated Measure 11.