Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Women who have had abortions but are now fighting to outlaw the practice say their numbers are growing and so will their influence, especially after many of them stepped forward to support South Dakota’s new abortion ban law.

“The women are coming forward. They’re feeling like there’s hope,” said Leslee Unruh, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse and a key homestate player in the approval of the law, which was signed last month by South Dakota Gov. Michael Rounds, a Republican.

Before approving the law, which bans abortion, except to save the life of the mother, a state task force on abortion took testimony and collected nearly 2,000 statements from women nationwide, 99 percent of whom said their abortions caused them pain, emotional damage and health problems and shouldn’t be legal.

Many say their side of the story has been ignored in the broader abortion debate until recently.

“It’s not a popular voice … but it’s one that needs to get out,” said Karen Bodle, of Harrisburg, Pa., whose story was among those submitted to South Dakota. Mrs. Bodle had an abortion at age 18 and for years afterward, she said she “suffered from chronic depression, feelings of shame and worthlessness” as well as miscarriages and troubled pregnancies.

“I was in denial over the truth of abortion for over 20 years,” said Mrs. Bodle, who feels she was “lied to and deceived” when she was told that the fetus wasn’t a baby and that the abortion would allow her to fully live her life.

“I believe that information still is denied to women,” she said.

Some critics say the state task force was biased. And the new abortion law is being aggressively challenged — opponents are collecting signatures to allow citizens to vote on the November ballot to overturn it. They say it endangers women’s health and violates their right to make private medical decisions.

Among the ongoing points of conflict is whether the law contains an exception for instances of rape. Supporters of the law say it contains a limited exception; opponents say there’s none.

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families is spearheading the ballot effort, and spokeswoman Jan Nicolay said most South Dakotans clearly think the law goes too far.

She said regardless of women’s differing experiences with abortion, “we ought to have a choice.”

“On any issue, there can be people who say it has effected them negatively. … We can line people up on both sides. That’s not the point of discussion,” she said. “The point is you’ve taken away my right as an individual to decide what I think I should do — with my doctor and my family and my minister.”

Mrs. Unruh, who also had an abortion that effected her negatively, said women who lobbied state lawmakers in support of the ban are trying to combat the ballot effort by taking a bus across South Dakota to tell their abortion stories.

“It’s very new for these women to stand up,” Mrs. Unruh said.

The women who support banning abortion say they know not all women share their negative experiences. But Cynthia Collins, who had her first abortion as a 19-year-old and then took a “downward spiral,” said the nation has “only heard one side” of the debate.

“We were sold a bill of goods that abortion is a good thing, and when we find out that it’s not, we’re told to be quiet,” said the Louisiana resident, who also told her story to the task force. That mentality is finally starting to change, she said, and “as those voices are heard, then we’re going to see the true picture.”

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