NPR logo Family At Center Of South Dakota Abortion Debate

Family At Center Of South Dakota Abortion Debate

Tiffany and Chris Campbell, shown with their son, Brady, have publicly campaigned against the proposed ban on most abortions. Jane Greenhalgh/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Jane Greenhalgh/NPR

Tiffany and Chris Campbell, shown with their son, Brady, have publicly campaigned against the proposed ban on most abortions.

Jane Greenhalgh/NPR

Making Their Cases

Anti-Abortion Activist Allen Unruh Says The Procedure Isn't A Necessity.

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Neonatal Surgeon Hanmin Lee Disagrees, Outlining Medical Issues.

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Return To Main Story

Backers of a proposed ban on most abortions in South Dakota say the initiative would allow exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life and health of pregnant women.

But just how that last exception would be interpreted — and by whom — has prompted some of the most heated rhetoric of the entire campaign season.

And most of it has swirled around a single family: Tiffany and Chris Campbell of Sioux Falls and their 18-month-old son, Brady.

A little over two years ago, Tiffany Campbell found out she was pregnant with twins. The couple was overjoyed, but only momentarily. Their twin boys were diagnosed with a rare condition called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. It's a condition in which identical twins end up sharing the same blood circulation.

Twin-to-twin is a serious complication that is often fatal to one or both twins. In his sons' case, says Chris Campbell, "Brady's heart was doing all the work. He was pumping all the blood, and he was starting to show the effects of the strain ... and he was really at severe risk of cardiac arrest."

A Wrenching Dilemma

The couple traveled to Cincinnati to consult with some of the country's top fetal specialists. After considering and rejecting several options that put all three lives — the twins' and Tiffany's — at risk, they reluctantly decided to abort the second twin, whom they'd named Brendan. Tiffany already had two other small children at home; she says she didn't want to risk leaving them without a mother and Chris without a wife.

"It was awful," Tiffany Campbell says. "How do you give up on one of your children? But we were forced to make a decision. We don't regret our decision. We regret having to make that decision to choose one child over the other. We live ... every single day with what we did. But then we look at Brady and say, 'Wow, he would not be here otherwise.' "

Chris Campbell says it was particularly hard for him because he was raised a Catholic and was always taught that abortion was a bad thing.

"But it wasn't until this happened," he says, "that I actually thought about some of the different things that can happen in a pregnancy, and [it] just really sunk in that this isn't a black-and-white issue — and it's really a decision that needs to be between a doctor and the families."

When the Campbells returned home in fall 2006, Tiffany, who was still pregnant with Brady, was put on bed rest. She said she realized that the ban then on the ballot in South Dakota would likely have outlawed the procedure she'd just had. So she sent an e-mail to the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, the group fighting the ban, offering to do what she could from home. She did a few interviews, but little else. That ban was rejected by voters, and in 2007, Brady was born — healthy.

Motivated To Go Public

This year, the new ban is on the ballot. Backers say it includes exceptions to preserve the health of the pregnant woman, but the Campbells say it still would not allow their procedure. And they've taped a television ad opposing the ban.

"Under Measure 11, we wouldn't have had that choice, and we would have lost both of them," Tiffany, in the commercial, says of her twins.

Supporters of the ban, however, say the ad is deceptive, that aborting one twin is never necessary in cases like the Campbells'.

"The law just basically requires the doctor to do everything they can to save" both babies, says Allen Unruh of Vote Yes for Life, the group that put the initiative on the ballot.

Unruh says that if a doctor does one of several recognized procedures, "the doctor's not liable under any aspect of this law, because he's done everything he can to save them. They die from the condition, really, not the surgery. So to tell people [as the Campbells do in the ad] that we wouldn't have a baby if we wouldn't have done selective reduction is completely false."

Weighing The Odds

The Campbells' doctor in Cincinnati declined to be interviewed for medical privacy reasons. But he referred questions to a colleague, Dr. Hanmin Lee, head of the fetal treatment center at the University of California, San Francisco. Lee sided with the Campbells, saying that while fetal surgeons always do their best to try to save both twins, it simply isn't possible in some cases.

"There are circumstances in which one of the fetuses is so sick ... that we would feel the chances of that fetus surviving are very low. And when that happens, the best way to ... maximize the possibility of survival of the other twin is to do a selective reduction," Lee said.

Because the Campbells had their procedure done in Ohio, it would not have been affected directly by the South Dakota initiative.

But Tiffany Campbell points out that if the South Dakota ban does pass — and is later used to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in 1973 — it won't matter what state women live in.

"That's why it affects everybody," she says.