There have been many valiant efforts on the part of pro-lifers to reverse the culture of death in this country, yet few have given Planned Parenthood a fight like the one that was waged in South Dakota last year. Both sides on the abortion issue recognized the critical nature of the battle that South Dakotans fought, a battle that was given national attention.
I had the opportunity to travel to South Dakota to work with a Student Project team, consisting of 20 TeenPact teenagers from around the country, as well as their leaders. We spent 8 days in South Dakota campaigning on behalf of Vote Yes for Life, the organization in charge of the pro-life efforts in that state.
Several of you have asked to hear about the campaign, so I'll do what I can to put the experience into words. The week was packed with amazing learning experiences and adventure, and it would be impossible to share all the wonderful things that happened.
The groundwork for pro-life reform in South Dakota was laid many years ago by a strong pro-life legislature and conservative populace. The state's legislature has been passing strong pro-life legislation for years. During the 2006 legislative session, after extensive research by the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion, they acted on the findings of the task force and succeeded in passing HB 1215, a bill which was entitled the Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act. Governor Michael Rounds signed the bill into law, and the measure was to have gone into effect on July 1, 2006.
Planned Parenthood lost no time in gathering the signatures (some of which may possibly have been fraudulent) needed to issue a referendum on the bill, thus submitting HB 1215 to the voters for approval or disapproval on their November 7th ballot. On the ballot, the proposition became Referred Law 6.
Referred Law 6 basically outlawed all abortions in the state of South Dakota, declaring, "Moreover, the Legislature finds that the guarantee of due process of law under the Constitution of South Dakota applies equally to born and unborn human beings, and that under the Constitution of South Dakota, a pregnant mother and her unborn child, each possess a natural and inalienable right to life." .
Any contraceptive measure, however, could be prescribed or used "prior to the time when a pregnancy could be determined through conventional medical testing" . This time frame is approximately 14 days, thus providing time for rape and incest victims to terminate their pregnancy if they so chose. Also, the bill contained provisions for the health of the mother, stating that no doctor who performed a medical procedure to "prevent the death of a pregnant mother"  (including abortion) would be guilty under HB 1215.
The campaign to pass Referred Law 6 was an exciting one. Upon our arrival in South Dakota, our Student Project team immediately began doing sign waving, phone banking, lit drops, neighborhood walks, mailings, and whatever else needed to be done for the cause. A group of about 6 guys traveled across the state to Rapid City to work, while the rest of us stayed in the Sioux Falls area. The Vote Yes for Life headquarters was a large warehouse on the outskirts of Sioux Falls which had been attractively furnished for the campaign. We spent most of our time there whenever we weren't doing work in the city of Sioux Falls and the surrounding districts.
South Dakota has approximately 800 abortions per year, which is one of the lowest state figures nationwide. It's interesting to note that there is not a single physician in the state who does abortions, and there's only one abortion clinic. The only doctor who performs abortions in South Dakota is a 70-year-old woman who flies in from a neighboring state several times a month.
Nevertheless, the whole state was talking about abortion. You couldn't drive anywhere in Sioux Falls without seeing bumperstickers and signs in abundance. There had been some sign vandalism, yet the pro-life signs still appeared in far greater numbers than their pro-choice counterparts.
It was exciting to see that abortion was a topic of discussion. For once, people could not avoid the issue. The pro-choice folks centered their whole campaign on the false statement that Referred Law 6 had no rape or incest exceptions, yet many people knew the truth and were very supportive.
The reactions that we received from South Dakotans were often surprisingly positive, although there were some negative encounters that actually motivated me to work harder, not exactly what the givers intended. The Lutherans yelled us off their church property. One lady told my team that we were trying to take the world back to the Dark Ages, and a man shouted at me and told me that I was a Bible-thumper who was the cause of all the problems in the world. Isn't it interesting that as soon as you mention abortion and the idea of right vs. wrong, many people stiffen up and make a mental connection to God and the Bible?
It was always encouraging to receive random thanks from strangers. Dominic, another SPer, and I were sign waving early one morning at South Dakota's busiest intersection in twenty degree weather when a man in a Cadillac stopped by to shake our hands and thank us for caring enough to come and help. Random people would come up at the strangest times to express their thanks for our efforts and to let us know that they were praying for us. One lady came by early in the morning to give the sign wavers donuts.
Going door-to-door was always interesting, an experience spiced up by some very awkward conversations and several intimidating canines. I saw several people who obviously had babies or young children of their own, yet still planned to vote 'no'. That was heartbreaking.
Singing worship songs in the van as we were hauled back and forth was awesome, as were some of our late night conversations. These included comments like, "This is AMAZING!", "I want to do this for the rest of my life!", "Why aren't all Christians up here helping?", "One of these days we're going to overturn Roe!", and "I have NEVER felt so inspired!"
I was very impressed with the Vote Yes campaign. Their focus was positive, which was terrific.They played very offensively, taking arguments that Planned Parenthood has traditionally used and turning them around to serve purposes that promote life. Doctors and post-abortive women were very vocal on the team. Abortion hurts women was the campaign's main slogan, encouraging people to think of abortion as the bondage that it truly is instead of the freeing process that Planned Parenthood has made it out to be.
The staff at Vote Yes was very excited about the international expressions of encouragement they received, although by far the majority of support was local. The campaign headquarters received calls from international diplomats and citizens as far away as Japan and Europe who wanted to express their enthusiasm and support for the work. The campaign received international media coverage. People all over the world had their eyes on South Dakota!
Our teams were divided up between several host homes at night. I stayed with 5 other girls in the home of an awesome homeschool family with eight children. They were very active on the campaign, and it was a blast getting to know them and enjoying inspiring conversations at all hours of the day and night!
I learned that Sioux Falls is not where the Sioux fell. :) Also, it's possible to fit more people in a minivan than is traditionally thought. Additionally, we discovered that South Dakota is one of the coolest states in the Union, in more ways than one!
We participated briefly in a parade through Sioux Falls, which was exciting. Buses, floats with children and balloons, motorcycles, and vehicles, all plastered with Vote Yes signs, wound through the city amidst a chorus of honks.
On the Sunday night before the election our team attended a church in the Sioux Falls area. The pastor gave an powerful sermon on abortion. It was incredibly convicting. He easily refuted several popular misconceptions about abortion with facts and statistics. Then he went on to discuss the deeper spiritual aspects of abortion. "Abortion is the symptom", he told the congregation. "We use abortion to cover up the shame of something that has already happened." He added that we need a deeper solution than just outlawing abortion. Abortion happens when a person says, "MY lifestyle, MY personal convenience, MY boyfriend/girlfriend, MY job, MY reputation, etc. is more important than God's moral standard". We have turned choice into an idol. We have put our choices above God. And when a person decides that what they want is more important than God, that is the ultimate form of idolatry. He urged all of us to "lay down the god of choice", however he may be manifested in our lives. God must come first. Then others. We come last! He also issued a challenge to the next generation, and the service ended with an amazing time of prayer for the election. Everyone divided into groups of three and interceded for a county in South Dakota.
A couple of us then had the opportunity to meet Roger Hunt, the state representative who wrote and sponsored HB 1215. He shared some of his thoughts and discussed the bill and its implications in detail. "There is nothing extraordinary", he insisted, "about a bill that tries to save unborn human life". He mentioned that the South Dakota legislature has been portrayed in the national media as though its members woke up one morning and decided to ban abortion on the spur of the moment. He resented this notion, referring to the extensive studies and witness affidavits collected by the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion. The task force collected more than 2,000 sworn affidavits from individuals who had been personally involved in or affected by abortion. They also consulted more than 50 national and international experts on the subject of abortion before issuing an extensive report with recommendations for the legislature. The legislature then acted on the suggestions of the task force when they passed HB 1215.
We often sign waved at the busiest intersection in South Dakota during rush hour. A couple of times, there were one or two pro-choice people holding small cardboard signs when we arrived. When our team showed up with large signs, yelling "Vote yes on 6!", "Yes for life!" or "Choose life!", and staffing all 4 corners of the intersection with people from Vote Yes who were jumping up and down with signs, they left soon after.
We had a few signs that said 'Honk for life', and the response was phenomenal. There were times when the whole street was a chorus of honks. It was so exciting to see peoples faces light up when they saw us. They would often wave and give us a thumbs up. Of course, there were people who gave us thumbs down and much worse, but that was definitely not the norm. A couple times, people who were driving by stopped to help wave signs for a few minutes!
The excitement in the hours preceding election day was contagious. We were all pumped up and eager for the climax, as well as rather sleep deprived. The headquarters was decorated beautifully.
One of the most amazing things about the campaign was the prayer support. It was awesome and humbling to see how many people were praying for the election results. We were driving back to our host homes late one night when someone happened to mention that 'such-and-such a church right over there' had been holding a 24 hour prayer vigil for the campaign. Christians everywhere were constantly lifting us and the cause up in prayer. On election day, when I came out of the poll I had been watching, I met a man who had driven halfway across the country just to pray in front of a South Dakota poll on election day!
The poll that I staffed was at a public elementary school. During the course of the afternoon, when I walked out to take a short break, I saw 3 little girls watching the voters inside the gym. They asked me what the people were voting about. Assuming that they were students and thinking it best not to mention abortion, I explained that the voters were deciding who would be the new leaders of South Dakota. They listened intently. When I had finished, one of them asked, "But what about the babies? Aren't they deciding whether or not to kill the babies?" I was quite surprised and answered in the affirmative. They wanted to know more, so I explained. After we had finished chatting, I excused myself. As I was leaving, one of the girls told me, "My Mommy is in there voting right now and she will vote to save the babies!" They told me that they planned to vote to save babies too, when they were old enough. I was very moved. Later, as I left in the van, they saw me and waved, yelling, "Goodbye, Sarah!"
After poll watching, we were joined by the team who had been in Rapid City. Our whole Student Project sign waved for the last time to remind folks who were heading home from work to vote before the polls closed. The response was again inspiring. Back at headquarters, we phoned those who hadn't showed up yet until the minute the polls shut down to remind them to vote.
Security at headquarters was very tight that night for the watch party, due to several threats. Media was swarming the place. We enjoyed the attractive and bountiful food displays and had time to relax a little and visit.
The atmosphere was charged. Everyone was excited and eager for the results, clustering around large-screen TV's to watch the statistics as they came in. There were several bursts of applause as the screen indicated that the SD marriage amendment and Referred Law 6 seemed to be doing well. We knew we had done our best, and the results were up to God.
I was very excited, but I had mixed feelings about the results. I knew we had a very good chance of winning, but the possibility of losing was also very real. It was going to be a close night. I felt completely resigned with whatever the outcome would be, knowing that either way, the pro-life message had been carried to many people for the first time and many had seen the light. God was in control.
The mood was celebratory, with children running around and adults laughing. Media personnel roamed the area for good shots. The yes votes on Referred Law 6 stayed just a few percentage points behind the no's for most of the evening.
As the night wore on, it became evident that Referred Law 6 would not pass. The opposing side gave a press conference declaring victory. Most of the results had trickled in, and it appeared that the final tally would be 56-44. After some patriotic music, Leslee Unruh, the staff, and some of the post-abortive women from the team mounted the stage to speak to the media and the volunteers who had assembled. We held up signs for the cameras and cheered (my Aunt saw me on TV a few days later). Everyone was really more excited than anything. Mrs. Unruh and the others spoke passionately about how abortion had hurt them and of their burning desire to free the women of South Dakota from the pain of abortion. The atmosphere was ecstatic. Everyone cheered wildly. The campaign promised never to give up until the women of SD were free from the bondage of Planned Parenthood.
There was a South Dakota woman who was watching the TV coverage on election night. She was pregnant and had scheduled an abortion, but what she saw that night changed her mind!
The people that I met during the campaign and the things I experienced reinforced my vision and inspired me. The Almighty is doing a great work in the hearts and lives of people all over the world. Individuals and communites are being motivated to put their beliefs into action, and average citizens are acquiring new convictions as they learn the facts about the atrocities that abortion inflicts on human lives in our country every single day.
I believe that God is doing a great work in the pro-life movement, and I was blessed to see so many Christians with a common passion for saving the lives of the unborn uniting to make a difference. What happened in South Dakota is by no means over. We have begun a battle, that, with God's help, we are going to win!
What happened in South Dakota established a precedent and proved that the prolife movement has credibility and influence. Vote Yes forced the abortion industry to be on the defensive for the first time in a long time, which is a victory in itself! So I'm really more excited than discouraged about the results. The whole world was watching, and even though we 'lost', we proved that we are a force to be reckoned with, have truth on our side, and don't plan to give up anytime soon! Perhaps a Vote Yes email said it best:
"...South Dakota voters delivered a significant blow to the abortion industry.
Forty-four percent of the population voted to uphold Referred Law 6.
South Dakotans now know that abortion hurts women, children, men and families. Even the opposition conceded that abortion hurts women.
VoteYesForLife.com has still won. Every time a South Dakota woman chooses life, we win. Every time a post-abortive woman or man takes the first step toward healing, we win. ....
Regardless of this election's outcome, we win when the culture of death is exposed to public scrutiny.
This was a victory against Planned Parenthood and the culture of death it promotes.
The nation's largest abortion provider was forced to spend resources on Referred Law 6 defense—resources it would have used to spread its deadly message.
Because of South Dakota, Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry are weaker today. And for that we are grateful.
We will not rest in our efforts to end abortion."
 HB 1215, Section 3, paragraph 2
 HB 1215, Section 4, paragraph 2