Monday, October 27, 2008

ACLU of Wisconsin activists join the fight against South Dakota abortion ban

On a sunny October weekend, three ACLU volunteers drove from Madison, WI to join up with activists from across the country to work to encourage voters to say “no” to an abortion ban referendum in the state of South Dakota.

These committed volunteers knocked on 4,326 doors, called 5, 891 homes, made 2,652 contacts and identified 659 new supporters through their efforts. But the fight to stop the abortion ban isn’t over. If passed, the referendum would surely face legal challenges (including from the ACLU) and could be the next court case to end up in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Now more then ever grassroots activism, legal challenges and future nominations to the Supreme Court are of central importance to this election.

One of the Madison volunteers, a student named Jeanette, had never been a part of a campaign action weekend. But she felt that it would be an opportunity to show her commitment to her strong belief in a woman’s right to her own medical choices.

"The volunteers there were amazing," said Jeanette, "and everyone was very dedicated, which was awesome to see. Even though phone calls began to get more and more difficult to bear, I knew that at the would pay off. The last day when we had the opportunity to have a visibility action in a very busy area of town, I knew there would be heads turning and fingers flying. I was ready for it all! I received many power fists and thumbs up from both women and men. I know that I will stay tuned in to find out about the end results for South Dakota and its families on November 4th."

Another Madison volunteer named Nancy had had a lot of experience working in the pro-choice movement and looked forward to making a measurable impact on women’s rights that weekend. She said that she was compelled to take action because she missed the opportunity to fight the narrowly defeated anti-abortion measure that was introduced in the same state two years ago.

"The first time I saw the abortion ban pop up in South Dakota, I thought it was a joke,” said Nancy. “I couldn’t imagine that the majority of a state would be so extreme as to enact a law banning abortion. But it is no joke. When I realized how close they are this year to passing the ban, I had to roadtrip down to Sioux Falls to help out. I’m so glad I did."

Nancy said that the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families (SDCHF) is an awesome, hard-working and passionate group of activists who are doing all they can to protect women’s right to medical privacy.

"But the ones who moved me the most during my weekend volunteering in Sioux Falls were the South Dakotans who answered their doors and quietly responded, 'yes, I believe it should be a woman’s choice. Yes, I’m voting against the ban. But no, I can’t take a yard sign… not in this neighborhood… I’m scared of what my neighbors would do.' Even if they were too scared to volunteer, too scared to show their opposition to this sweeping ban, I met a quiet but slim majority of people who affirmed to me how important the human connections are when we do this volunteer work. Not only did I get to help make a difference in educating voters about the dangers of this ban in their state, but I also could see gratitude and the relief of being reminded that they weren’t alone in the eyes of those who knew the ban went too far."

The ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project organized just a part of the effort, but more work can still be done to fight the ban with potentially far-reaching effects.

What more can we do to help? SDCHF has the technology to host remote phone banking. You can gather a group of friends to help get out the vote (GOTV) in November. In a state as spread out and rural as South Dakota, phone banking is one of the most important ways to get voters to polls. All each person needs is a computer with internet access and a cell phone. It’s that easy to make a difference in the protection of abortion access for all women across this country. For more information on how to help or to host a phone bank party, contact Stacy in the Madison office and she can get you the details or visit the SDCHF website to view the TV ads.

"There is truly strength in numbers," said Nancy, "and we had some awesome numbers and strength in Sioux Falls during ACLU’s volunteer weekend to fight the ban."

Check out today’s NPR story for more on what is at stake in South Dakota.

Read more from the ACLU project's director on the ACLU blog.