SD Wake Up Call To Support Grassroots Activists

March 07, 2006

Womens Media Center Exclusive: Call for New Support of Grassroots Activists By Lynn M. Paltrow

March 7
While the South Dakota Governor's decision to sign into law a ban on virtually all abortions is horrifying to many, it should not come as a much of a surprise.

Anti-abortion and conservative forces have spent the last 30 years working at the grassroots to inspire and mobilize activists and to elect anti-choice policymakers who can pass ever more restrictive abortion laws. While pro-choice and progressive activists have been very good at stopping those laws once enacted, relatively few resources have been invested in grassroots and state based activism that would prevent these laws from passing in the first place.

It has been known for months that national right to life groups had moved into the state and were making South Dakota one of its testing grounds. Local chapters of some national pro-choice organizations as well as such grassroots groups as Democracy in Action and South Dakota's Native American Resource and Education Center however have not received an influx of money, new staff, or other resources from national groups to help them stop this political onslaught. These very local groups, however have on their own stopped a number of other terrible bills from passing and are prepared to continue to challenge the South Dakota's latest assault on pregnant women and mothers.

These activists understand that the abortion issue is being used in South Dakota not only to deprive pregnant women of the right to choose abortion, but also as an effective conservative strategy designed to distract attention from pressing social and economic issues that affect all women. They know that it is a terrible joke that the abortion ban just signed into law is entitled "The Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act" when12% of South Dakotans have no health insurance, when women's health issues from unnecessary c-sections to breast cancer are being ignored, and when too many mothers cannot support their families even when they are working full time.

While the South Dakota ban has left many stunned, the South Dakota women's health activists are not giving up. Some may well start to collect the 16,728 signatures needed to delay the law and require a vote on the issue in November. Such a campaign would provide a tremendous opportunity to reframe the abortion debate in South Dakota and build the grassroots base.

The Governor's signature should send a message not about abortion, but about the desperate need to invest in local activists who understand their communities and the values that will eventually provide the basis for ensuring reproductive justice for all.

Lynn M. Paltrow is the Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women