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Since the Supreme Court’s announced its decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), individuals and groups opposed to legalized abortion in the United States have battled to reverse the ruling. Using established political processes, incremental steps such as parental consent requirements and/or twenty-four hour waiting periods have been strategically advanced as they charted the path to their real goal – an all-out abortion ban. Contemporary South Dakota Pro-Life activists abandoned this incremental approach in 2006, in the belief that the time was ripe for a voter-supported broadbased abortion ban that could be used to challenge the Supreme Court decision. They failed, however, to find the right combination of policy components to appeal to a majority of South Dakota voters. The November 2006 election resulted in 56% of South Dakota voter opposing the ban compared to 44% who supported it. The November 2008 election results were extremely close – 55% to 45%. However, analysis of individual attitudes towards abortion using 2006 GSS data suggested that a much wider margin of opposition and support exists in the voting public. When we compare the individual responses to abortion questions to the severe requirements of the proposed ban, we find that as many as 92% of the voters should have opposed the law. In this article, we attempt to explain the discrepancy between attitude preference and voting behavior by showing how the debate on abortion, in South Dakota specifically but also across the nation, has been reconceptualized not as a rational calculation of preferences about abortion but perhaps as a much broader referendum on family values.



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