In 2006, anti-abortion group Vote Yes For Life attempted to essentially ban abortion in South Dakota. They put the ban to the voters, who rejected the measure 55 percent to 44 percent. Vote Yes remained undeterred and has accrued enough signatures to return the issue to the voting booth again this year. And in a strange political and ideological marriage, Vote Yes and Planned Parenthood agree on one thing for this year's showdown: Activists should leave their dead baby pictures at home.
'Those images are offensive, that we can agree on for sure,' says Kathi DiNicola, director of media
relations for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. 'Those don't help start the real conversation about preventing unintended pregnancy and reducing the need for abortion.'
'In South Dakota, that doesn't work,' Leslee Unruh, executive director of Vote Yes argues. 'Certainly people have a right to do what they want. But as leader of this campaign, I'm asking people to not come to South Dakota with pictures of dead babies.'
Unruh says that last time around, graphic images of aborted fetuses that appeared on the sides of trucks and being flown behind airplanes offended and upset many South Dakotans, which she suspects might have turned the tide away from the anti-abortion movement. In 2006, she says Vote Yes conducted polls that showed people convincingly didn't want to be subjected to the photos, and that many people, even voters willing to vote for the ban, voted the other way out of rage. In addition to turning voters off, Unruh says that pictures of tiny aborted fetuses are harsh on post-abortive women like herself that support the abortion ban.
Leslee Unruh with Vote Yes for Life petitions and South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson.
'It's very difficult to have to look at those pictures for women who've had abortions,' Unruh says. 'I feel that they cause a lot of us to have serious backlashes. It brings us back to that experience. A lot of us have gotten to a point of healing, where we don't see the child that way. When I think of my aborted child, that's not what I want to think of.'
And although Unruh requested anti-abortion activist organizations not to blanket the state with grisly images, it happened anyway. 'I pleaded with them not to come, and they still came,' she says.
Troy Newman of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which operates a fleet of ten 'truth trucks' plastered with images of dismembered and bloody aborted fetuses, says his rigs will probably not show up in South Dakota during the campaign. Operation Rescue was one of the groups Unruh was targeting with her request to leave graphic images out of South Dakota. Newman endorses Vote Yes on their Web site, and says this year the vote is more about uniting anti-abortion activists behind one cause, rather than trying to win voters' hearts with gore.
'I think the polls show that South Dakota already is pro-life. And they have a strategic vision for how to overturn Roe,' Newman says. 'I don't think the people of South Dakota need to be convinced to be pro-life. So I'm going to focus our resources elsewhere.' Newman also initially denied that his trucks were in South Dakota in 2006. 'Mine weren't, no. I'm not aware of that,' he says. But he later softened that response, ' I can't say that (they definitely weren't in South Dakota), I do not believe they were. We've got ten trucks, we traverse the country. I suppose it could be, but I don't see the relevance.'
'Not everybody is going to agree with every tactic, but as a movement, we agree on the ultimate goal. Obviously we believe that those trucks are incredibly powerful in changing a person's heart and mind. But again, in South Dakota, the polls are pretty clear that the overwhelming majority of people are pro-life,' Newman says.
DiNicola, of Planned Parenthood, says Vote Yes is playing with fire, and that by putting the near ban up to another vote, South Dakota might be too irresistible for anti-abortion supporters to not use upsetting images. 'By filing another initiative, when the people have already spoken, she's inviting them.'
Meanwhile, Unruh is holding her breath and hoping that demonstrators heed her request for a soft-sell approach as the campaign inches closer to the national media spotlight. She says that unlike in 2006 when Vote Yes had less funding, less experience and didn't know how to handle extremist demonstrators, this time they will be ready. 'There were some situations last time in which I asked some of them to leave,' she says. 'But I've come a long way since then. Hopefully this time, they'll know I mean business.'