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Could abortion law affect tourism? Both sides say yes

Megan Meyers, Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD) , February 28, 2006

PIERRE – As a bill meant to spark a national movement to overturn the 1973 decision that legalized abortion heads to the desk of Gov. Mike Rounds, the national debate about the bill and its possible repercussions is heating up.

South Dakota lawmakers, state agencies and businesses are hearing from people who oppose and support HB1215, which would ban most abortions in the state.

Many from outside South Dakota say they plan to boycott the state’s tourist attractions and businesses, while others are looking at the state more favorably as a result of the bill’s passage through the Legislature.

The measure would make it a crime for doctors to perform abortions in South Dakota except to save a pregnant woman’s life. The bill has been sent to Rounds, who has said he’s inclined to sign it.

The national and international reaction has some lawmakers and tourism and economic development officials concerned, as the state’s tourism industry brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the state. But others say the backlash is only temporary and won’t affect the state as a whole.

“At this point, we’re seeing it have a minimal impact,” said Billie Jo Waara, director of the South Dakota Department of Tourism.

Jerry Horgen of Henning, Minn., said Monday that he thinks South Dakota would lose conventions and tourist traffic if the bill is signed into law.

As a retired businessman who worked in the convention industry, Horgen said he doesn’t think the bill’s sweeping restrictions on abortion – especially its lack of exceptions for cases of rape and incest – reflects well on the state to outside visitors.

Companies and organizations from outside the state could look at South Dakota as “going off the deep end,” Horgen said.

“People who want to have conventions there ... I think they’ll want to go elsewhere,” he said. “If I were running a big hotel complex that had conventions frequently, I would be worried.”

Bill Honerkamp, president of the Black Hills, Badlands & Lakes Association, said his office has received only one e-mail from an opponent of HB1215. Honerkamp said he’s concerned about the potential effects of the bill, but “you don’t know how serious it is – you don’t know the dimensions of it.”

“Mostly, I think the visitor industry is feeling a little bit like a hostage in the middle of someone else’s argument,” Honerkamp said. “It’s a little difficult for me to understand that this would gain any political leverage.”

Another boycott?
South Dakota has seen political boycotts in the past, but they’ve had a minimal effect on the state.

Motorcycle groups recently called a boycott of the annual Sturgis bike rally in response to what they considered a weak sentence for Gov. Bill Janklow’s car accident that took the life of a motorcyclist.

Janklow was convicted of manslaughter, spent 100 days in jail and recently had his law license reinstated.

In addition, Native American groups have staged boycotts of the state for various reasons throughout the years.

“There have been none that have affected tourism,” Honerkamp said.

But the power of the political boycott shouldn’t be underestimated, said Lynn Muller, assistant professor of marketing at the University of South Dakota.

The threat of a boycott influenced Idaho politics in 1990, when the state’s legislature attempted to pass a far-reaching abortion ban.

Abortion rights groups, including the National Organization for Women, threatened to boycott the state’s famous Idaho potatoes, while abortion opponents urged a counter-boycott.

The state’s then-governor refused to sign the bill, citing national pressure as a factor.

Supporters plan visits

Meanwhile, the ban is having the opposite effect on those outside the state who support it, said Leslee Unruh, president of the Alpha Center pregnancy crisis clinic in Sioux Falls.

Unruh said Monday that she’s heard from many people from around the country who are planning trips to South Dakota because of the bill’s passage through the Legislature.

One man from Alabama who supports the legislation told her he plans to visit the Black Hills this summer because of the bill, Unruh said.

And one abortion-rights group said they want to hold a national conference in South Dakota now, she said.

“I think we’ve got a lot of people who are going to respect the state more now,” Unruh said.

Unruh said she plans to send a number of e-mails herself to supporters of the bill and abortion opponent groups, encouraging them to visit the state.

One potential visitor could be Leah Overson of Orem, Utah. Overson said she knew little about South Dakota before hearing of the abortion ban, which she supports wholeheartedly.

“I feel like this move on the part of the state leaders has really changed my impression of the state favorably,” Overson said.

E-mails, T-shirts

At least one popular online shopping site that allows customers to personalize and sell T-shirts and other merchandise is now offering a variety of items that disparage South Dakota and the proposed ban.

At, customers can buy items with slogans ranging from “Why Does South Dakota Hate Rape Victims?” to “South Dakota: The Wire Hanger State.”

Lawmakers’ e-mail and voice mail inboxes have been flooded in recent days with messages from constituents and people outside South Dakota on the issue. Some respond to the messages personally, others choose not to reply, and still others say they listen to their constituents but ignore those from out-of-state.

Sen. Julie Bartling, D-Burke, the main Senate sponsor of the bill, said Monday that she’s been inundated with messages from people mostly outside the state. She chooses not to respond to the e-mails, which “can be pretty nasty,” she said.

While many of the messages are supportive, “I don’t feel some deserve a reply of any kind,” Bartling said.

Sen. J.P. Duniphan, R-Rapid City, who voted against the ban, said she has been responding to messages that threaten a boycott by encouraging people to look at what the state has to offer besides the bill.

“Everyone cools down after a while,” Duniphan said. “They’ll reconsider.”

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