STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Next week's election will bring a host of local ballot initiatives. In a moment, we'll check in on a man behind such initiatives in Washington state. We begin in South Dakota where voters will decide on a measure that would ban most abortions. Just two years ago, you may recall, the state's voters rejected an even more restrictive proposal that would have barred almost all abortions. This year's measure is a little less rigid. But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, if the proposal passes, it could be used to challenge abortion rights in the US Supreme Court.
JULIE ROVNER: It's warm for an autumn day in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Megan Moss, clipboard and pamphlets in hand, is out canvassing house by house.
Ms. MEGAN MOSS (Volunteer, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families): Hi there. Are you William?
Mr. WILLIAM FLANAGAN: Yeah.
Ms. MOSS: OK. My name is Megan and I'm with the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families. I'm going around your neighborhood passing out information on Initiated Measure 11. Have you heard of that yet?
ROVNER: Initiated Measure 11 is the formal name of the abortion referendum on the November ballot. It would ban virtually all abortions in the state, with limited exceptions for rape, incest, and threats to the life or health of the woman. At this house, Megan scores a hit with voter William Flanagan.
Ms. MOSS: Do you think that you probably will be voting no?
Mr. FLANAGAN: Yes, I will be.
Ms. MOSS: All right. Thank you very much for it.
Mr. FLANAGAN: I don't believe in government telling people what to do.
Ms. MOSS: Exactly.
ROVNER: But while a strong libertarian streak among South Dakota voters like Flanagan helped defeat the ban two years ago, South Dakota is still a very conservative state when it comes to abortion.
Ms. ZOANN TRUMBULL: I believe that abortion is wrong, it's murder.
ROVNER: ZoAnn Trumbull lives around the corner. She voted for the ban in 2006 and says she'll vote for it again this time.
Ms. TRUMBULL: According to the Bible, thou shall not murder. And to me, it's murder. And there are a lot of people out there that need to adopt those babies that need to be adopted. And that's the way we stand.
ROVNER: Across town, the people working to pass the ban hope there are a lot more voters like ZoAnn Trumbull.
Unidentified Woman: It's a great ban. Voteyesforlife.com, this is Eddy(ph). How can I help you?
ROVNER: The headquarters of Vote Yes for Life are in what was once a Planned Parenthood clinic. Now it's decked out with orange and blue balloons and little framed pictures of babies' feet decorate the walls. In what used to be the clinic waiting room, one whole wall is taken up by a massive map of the state showing county by county the vote on the 2006 ban, where they won and where they need to gain more support. Allen Unruh was one of the campaign's organizers and a longtime anti-abortion activist in the state. He says he knows a big reason why the 2006 effort didn't succeed.
Dr. ALLEN UNRUH (Anti-Abortion Activist): Countless people said, if you'd had an exception for rape and incest, we would have voted with you.
ROVNER: So this time backers of the ban changed the language.
Dr. UNRUH: We're giving the people of South Dakota what they wanted. This bill, this initiative, basically has exceptions for rape, incest, and health and life of the mother.
ROVNER: Unruh says allowing any abortions isn't his first choice, but he recognized that some compromise was necessary.
Dr. UNRUH: Ideally, I'd like to save every child possible, but we don't live in that type of world right now. So to me, it's kind of like if the Titanic is sinking, would you say, well, let's not lower the lifeboats because we can't save them all? Let's save every person we can.
ROVNER: But across town at the current Planned Parenthood clinic, CEO Sarah Stoesz says all the talk of limits on the ban are nothing but a smokescreen.
Ms. SARAH STOESZ (CEO, Planned Parenthood Clinic, South Dakota): If this ban is passed in South Dakota, it means that there will be no abortions performed in South Dakota.
ROVNER: Currently, there are no doctors in South Dakota willing to do elective abortions. Planned Parenthood flies in doctors from Minnesota once or twice a week. They perform between 700 and 800 abortions per year. It's one of the lowest rates in the country. But Stoesz says the ban would not only force an end to elective abortions, but the exceptions in the proposed ban are so narrow that no abortions would be performed for any other reason either.
Ms. STOESZ: In the case of the so-called, life exception, doctors will have to be so absolutely certain that a woman could fit through this narrow, narrow exception that they would not under any circumstances make a mistake. Because if they made a mistake, they are subjected to potentially felony charges. And I have not met a doctor in South Dakota yet who says that he or she is willing to perform an abortion under those circumstances.
ROVNER: The rape and incest exceptions come with similar strings. They require the doctor to collect and preserve DNA samples from the fetus. Backers of the ban say that will help catch criminals. Opponents say it's just another way to deter women from seeking abortions and doctors from performing them. But what worries Stoesz most is that if the ban were to pass, it could well trigger a lawsuit that could quickly have national implications.
Ms. STOESZ: A state that has only 778,000 people living in it could potentially set in motion a course of events that could overturn Roe v. Wade.
ROVNER: And that's just what Allen Unruh is hoping for.
Dr. UNRUH: You know, we might be a flyover state, but we want to be a beacon of light for anybody who flies over. That's what our goal is.
ROVNER: Both sides are predicting a close vote. Julie Rovner, NPR News.
INSKEEP: One family's situation goes to the heart of South Dakota's abortion debate, and you can learn about it at npr.org.