The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families (SDHF) was formed in 2006 to refer and defeat the near total ban on abortion (which became known as Referred Law 6 or RL6) passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Rounds. SDCHF hired Hildebrand Strategies to successfully conduct a referendum petition drive and RL6 was eventually defeated by a 12-point margin. A 2007 attempt by anti-abortion advocates to push a similar measure through the state legislature also failed to become law. In 2008, anti-abortion advocates successfully placed their own initiative on the ballot, Initiated Measure 11 (IM11), claiming to be a more moderate measure that took into account factors such as rape, incest, and the life and health of the pregnant woman. Polling indicated that an abortion ban which took into account these factors would pass by a comfortable margin.
SDHF’s goal was to put together a campaign – based on grassroots advocacy and earned media – that would persuade voters of two primary messages: a ban on abortions could never take into account each woman’s individual circumstance, and that banning abortions would effectively insert the government into decisions best made by the woman, her family, and her doctor.
SDHF hired Hildebrand Strategies to direct the campaign and implement these two messages through a campaign of grassroots advocacy and earned media. SDHF’s vast campaign was anchored by major organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota and augmented by a diverse group of doctors, pastors, legal experts, community leaders, Republicans, Democrats and a variety of local advocacy and activist groups. Hildebrand Strategies worked with SDHF and these organizations at both the state and national levels to implement its communications plan through background research, paid media, Op Ed placements, Letters to the Editor, blog postings, planning and coordinating the national SDHF launch press conference, pitching story ideas to the media, and general communications consulting.
South Dakota’s well-educated voters again rejected anti-abortion advocates’ third attempt at criminalizing abortions in the state by a margin of 55.3 to 44.7 percent. The combination of grassroots advocacy and earned media, formulated and implemented by Hildebrand Strategies, was effective in communicating to voters what was really at stake under IM11.
The state's political experts are still analyzing this latest defeat. But it's clear that the ban's opponents ran a different and highly effective campaign -- University of South Dakota political science professor emeritus Don Dahlin called it "masterful.'' It not only connected with voters, but it suggests that future debates in South Dakota and elsewhere can and should move beyond absolutes and old rhetoric. (Minnesota Star Tribune Editorial, 11/30/08)