by Steven Ertelt
October 9, 2006
Pierre, SD (LifeNews.com) — The abortion debate has long been dominated by language on both sides that often times seems as if neither side is talking to the other. While pro-life advocates typically talk about how abortion destroys the lives of babies before their birth, abortion supporters frame debate in terms of a woman’s choice.
Pro-abortion groups expected backers of the South Dakota abortion ban to rely on traditional debate points to persuade voters to support the ban.
However, the pro-life group heading up the fight for the ban is turning the abortion debate on its ear. By employing pro-woman arguments that focus on how abortion hurts women and how women who have had abortions regret their decisions, leading abortion advocates are stumped on how to respond.
Vote Yes for Life campaign manager Leslee Unruh takes what she calls the pro-life "feminist" approach to the abortion debate.
Instead of discussing how abortion "murders babies" she talks about how abortion exploits women. The campaign headquarters features pictures of women and the slogan, "Abortion Hurts Women."
"We women buy the choice line. We’re panicked, or we’re being pressured, or we’re ashamed to have a child outside marriage," Unruh told the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
She knows what she’s talking about — Unruh had an abortion 30 years ago and is still troubled by the decision.
Her language and focus on women has befuddled the other side in the process.
According to the Times, Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and North and South Dakota, says Unruh’s pro-woman, pro-life tactic is "effective" and has thrown her group’s campaign "off balance."
"Historically, this debate has been focused on fetal rights, fetal life. We have a lot of language about that," Stoesz told the newspaper. "This adds an element we’re not accustomed to. It’s a different line of debate…. And that is something we struggle with politically."
Unruh says her groups tactics are working and points to polls showing voters moving from 47 to 39 percent against the ban to 47 to 44 against it. Abortion advocates haven’t been able to make any gains because Unruh has effectively taken away their typical argument that abortion benefits women.
As a result, the pro-abortion campaign has relied on television commercials talking about the bans lack of rape and incest exceptions, designed to appeal to voters who lean pro-life on abortion in general but favor abortions in those very rare circumstances.
Her success has also led Unruh to take a stand against out of state pro-life groups with a harsher message.
She opposed the tactics of one Wisconsin group that set up shot in Rapid City with pictures of aborted babies and said their message of "anger and death" should be replaced with one of "compassion and love."
The emphasis on protecting women has appealed to state voters.
Jazmine Brown, 13, said she decided to volunteer to help support the abortion ban after seeing a pro-woman DVD at her church.
"The clips really hit me hard," she told the newspaper. "I knew women were hurt by abortion, but that implanted it in my heart."
Daniel McConchie, vice president of Americans United for Life, told the Times the pro-woman, pro-life message should resonate in other states as well. And other pro-life groups, such as Feminists for Life of America, have been successfully using the message for years.
"It’s been very helpful for the pro-life movemen. Who doesn’t want to protect women?" he said.