Local groups air views in Vermillion

Local groups air views in Vermillion
South Dakota's abortion debate took to the streets of Vermillion Thursday as two groups of demonstrators aired their views before noontime commuters.

Members of "U.Vox: Voices for Choice" stood along the south curb of Cherry Street near the intersection of Ratingen Strasse.

In the style of the Burma Shave highway sign advertising campaign of the 1950s, each held a hand-drawn poster that, when threaded together, told passing motorists of the final action they hope the South Dakota Legislature will take on its controversial ban on abortion.

"Keep Abortion Safe and Legal in South Dakota," one string of signs stated. Farther down the street, a group held signs asking passing motorists to "honk for choice" and urge Gov. Rounds to veto the legislation.

Many of the drivers did just that as they drove by. With each honk of a car horn, young women screamed in reply, letting the people behind the wheels of autos and pickups know they appreciated the support they were receiving.

Standing east of the protesters on the same curb was Sharon Gray. Like the other women out that day, she was being buffeting by the numbing winds, but she didn't mind. Unlike the posters held by the college students, the Vermillion wife and mother held a graphic photo showing the negative outcome of abortion.

She knows first-hand, Gray added, what women risk when they choose to terminate a pregnancy.

"I know what is lost through abortion, because I almost lost it," Gray said. "I almost aborted my first child. He's grown up to be a National Merit Scholar, he's an incredible young man, a lot of people know him, and so when women talk about abortion, it's not abstract to me. It's very concrete."

Gray said she understands the arguments that many women and men make to defend abortion. "They claim that it should be something that should be a women's right to decide," she said, "but the biological reality is there are two human beings in the mix. I'm very proud of our state for defending the weakest."

Last month both houses of the South Dakota Legislature approved the abortion ban � which has an exception for the mother's life � hoping it will lead to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the infamous decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Opponents of the bill tried unsuccessfully Feb. 9 to add an amendment making an exception for rape and incest.

The bill makes it a felony for anyone to perform an abortion. The mother would not be charged with a crime. The language of the bill � named the Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act � says that "life begins at the time of conception" and that scientific advances since 1973 have proven that the unborn child is indeed life.

The bill says the goal is to "fully protect the rights, interests, and health of the pregnant mother, the rights, interest, and life of her unborn child, and the mother's fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child." The bill is based on the findings of a task force that studied abortion.

South Dakota's Legislature passed similar legislation in 2004, only to see Rounds issue a "style-and-form" veto, sending it back to the Legislature for minor changes. Rounds said in 2004 that he agreed with the bill's intent, but was fearful that its wording would lead a court to strike down not only the bill but also the state's other restrictions on abortion.

The House agreed to Rounds' changes, but the Senate defeated the reworded bill, 18-17, when a senator who previously had supported it switched and voted against it.

U.Vox president Mandy Hagseth said last Thursday she hoped her group would help persuade Gov. Mike Rounds to veto South Dakota's new abortion ban.

U.Vox is a campus organization that promotes sexual health and reproductive rights.

Most of the people demonstrating Friday, Hagseth said, were USD undergraduate, graduate and law school students. District 17 State Sen. Ben Nesselhuf and a few members of the Vermillion community also spent a short time with the protesters.

Hagseth helped organize the protest by sending e-mails to supporters. Any future action, she said, will depend on the final decisions of Gov. Rounds and state lawmakers.

Gray is hoping that the governor and state lawmakers aren't swayed by demonstrators.

Rather than striking down the legislation with a veto, Rounds signed the controversial abortion bill this week (see related story).

"Ironically, it is quite often in defense of women to be against abortion. I'm on an online pregnancy board where we answer women's questions and concerns about crisis pregnancies. A lot of those women are being pressured to have abortions because it is legal, because it is expected," Gray said. "The real beneficiaries of abortion on demand in this culture are promiscuous males. That's not to say there aren't a lot of men who step up to the plate and really do want to save and provide for their babies, so it's not always that way.

"But unfortunately, women often get painted into a corner where they don't have the support and they end up opting for a choice that is not really a choice," she said. "It's a non-choice."

According to recent news reports, Rounds has indicated he is "inclined" to sign the bill.

"To be quite honest with you, we are waiting to react to what happens next," Hagseth said. "We are leaving some room to plan, if or when Gov. Rounds signs it. Depending on his reaction to the bill, that will probably lead us to plan accordingly."

U.Vox won't limit itself to only the USD campus, she said. It will keep in touch with other local groups that are concerned with women's rights.

"There is a Vermillion Organization of Women, there is a domestic violence group, and we will work with as many organizations as we can depending on how this issue develops," Hagseth said.

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