South Dakota Abortion Ban Sponsor Alleges Harassment

By Dawn Rizzoni | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - In the aftermath of South Dakota's passage of a controversial abortion ban, the state lawmaker who sponsored the ban is the target of hate mail. Republican State Rep. Roger Hunt acknowledges that "it is the people's right to voice their feelings to a politician," but the venom directed at Hunt prompted South Dakota's GOP Gov. Mike Rounds and the state legislature to take extra steps to protect Hunt.

"While there have been some wild statements made," Hunt said, "there have been no threats to my life or body." He did add, however, that "many have wished misfortune to himself and his family."

Those wishes include that his "family would be raped," that Hunt would burn in hell, and other vitriolic messages. Hunt said other legislators have been harassed, including one who received bent coat hangers in envelopes. Advocates of abortion rights have repeatedly warned that outlawing the procedure will encourage other methods of ending pregnancies, such as the use of a coat hanger.

"People will say things when they're disgruntled," Hunt said. "It doesn't mean they'll follow through with it."

Still, it was enough to cause concern for the governor and the legislature shortly after the bill was passed at the end of March, when the harassment was at an all-time high.

Rounds informed Hunt and others that police would be patrolling their neighborhoods and would be on heightened alert for suspicious activity. The Legislative Research Council, the main headquarters for South Dakota's state legislature, took down all contact information for Hunt and refused to give out his information to callers.

According to Hunt, most of the harassment comes from out-of-state residents. Hunt said that when he presses callers for information on the bill, or asks them if they have read it, most often he finds that the caller is "ill informed."

"They're going on the basis of gut reaction and emotion," based on bits and pieces they have heard from the media, Hunt said.

Marjorie Signer, director of communications and policy for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, agreed that the emotions of the abortion issue fuel the harassment.

"This issue brings out anger and hate. It brings out the worst fears and passion in people," Signer said. "Normally we see it on the pro-life side. The people that have been killed are the ones that perform abortions. I don't know of any pro-lifers who have been killed doing sidewalk counseling."

But she added that there is no proof that the harassment has come from the pro-abortion movement. "There's no way of knowing where those threats are actually coming from," she said. "It's unusual for this to come from pro-choicers."

Signer believes that the harassment directed at Hunt and others is proof that abortion "does not belong in a public forum."

"It's a private, medical matter, not a public one and should not be up for discussion and debate," she said.

"This kind of intensity is only exacerbated by these legislative actions," Signer added. "We will see a lot more of this if there are more South Dakotas. If it actually makes it to the Supreme Court and became a serious threat, we're going to see people in the streets."

Any form of harassment or violence is wrong, Signer said. "It doesn't help the cause. It only hurts everyone."

Judie Brown, president of the pro-life group American Life League, said, "Representative Hunt is experiencing the wrath of those pro-abortion zealots who cannot tolerate the truth. Because the South Dakota abortion ban effectively puts them out of business, those who make their living killing the innocent pre-born will do whatever it takes to protect their business, including threats and deceitful rhetoric."

Planned Parenthood of South Dakota is spearheading an attempt to overturn the abortion ban in the state. A referendum, which will ask South Dakotans whether they want to overturn the law, is slated to appear on the November ballot. If the ballot question fails, Planned Parenthood is expected to appeal the law in court. That could eventually result in the U.S. Supreme Court deciding the South Dakota issue and either affirming or overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

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