SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Tiffany Campbell never thought she would have an abortion.

“I was a staunch Republican, I would not even vote for a Democrat, straight party ticket,” Tiffany said. “But I also never thought I would need an abortion.”

In 2006, Tiffany and her then-husband Chris found out they were pregnant with their third child. Like her first two pregnancies, Tiffany was experiencing severe dehydration and vomiting and regularly went to the doctor for fluids and other treatments.

On one particular visit, Tiffany was informed she had a kidney infection and would need a stent and have to spend the night at the hospital. Before the procedure, a nurse performed an ultrasound and Tiffany found out she was pregnant with twins.

Her excitement was short-lived.

“And then the ultrasound tech got very quiet, went to the phone, and was whispering. I knew something was wrong,” Tiffany said.  

That’s when a team of doctors at Sioux Valley Hospital, now known as Sanford Health, diagnosed her twins with Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS). The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital says that this rare condition happens when identical twins share a placenta and the “abnormal blood vessel connections” cause an uneven blood flow between the fetuses.

Campbell twins ultrasound image

Dr. Peter Van Eerden was an OB/GYN with Sioux Valley at the time and told KELOLAND News that TTTS can develop as early as 16 weeks and has a mortality rate up to 80%.

“Even 100% if left untreated for both babies,” Van Eerden said.

Without treatment, doctors in Sioux Falls told Tiffany that her pregnancy would end with the death of at least one of her twin boys, if not both.

“They pretty much thought the chances of the sick baby making it were slim to none,” Chris Campbell told KELOLAND News in 2008.

Doctors in Sioux Falls were unable to perform the laser treatment for her condition and so Tiffany was referred to a team of experts in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I mean, we had about 24 hours to decide, but I knew right away that I wanted to save at least one child, right?” Tiffany recalled.

So, Tiffany and Chris dropped their two children off with family members and began the two-day drive to Ohio. Once there, Tiffany underwent three days of testing.

“We didn’t have any family with us in Cincinnati, I remember calling my mom,” Tiffany said. “I told the doctors beforehand, before we met, you know, after the three days of testing, and I said, ‘I don’t want to see pictures, I don’t want to see the stats… Just tell me what, what procedure we can do.'”

A decision was made to perform a radio frequency abortion on one of the twins. The procedure is done in cases of TTTS in order to save the life of one of the babies, while terminating the life of the other by cutting off the supply to the baby’s umbilical cord.

After the procedure, Tiffany’s water broke, and steps were taken to stop her from going into labor. Overall, the couple spent ten days in Ohio before they made the drive home.

“While we were driving back home, I said to my husband at the time, I said, I think what we just had done will be banned,” Tiffany said.

At the time, the South Dakota Legislature passed a law that outlawed abortions. Then Governor Mike Rounds signed the bill shortly after.

Later that year, Planned Parenthood succeeded in placing Referendum 6 on the November ballot. The initiated measure would allow South Dakota voters to decide whether to ban abortion in the state. By a vote of 55-44, voters struck down the proposed abortion ban.

But Tiffany’s abortion happened in September of 2006, 2 months before South Dakotans struck down the ban. For the Campbell family, it left them wondering if their abortion would have been criminalized in South Dakota.

“And he’s (Chris) like, ‘What are you talking about? We had to do it to save Brady,’ who is our surviving son,'” Tiffany said.

So, once back in Sioux Falls, Tiffany visited her care team and asked how the proposed ban would have impacted her abortion.

“I asked both of them, ‘what would this be banned under this law?’ And they both said yes,” Tiffany said.

The measure stated that exceptions would be made for rape or incest or if the life of the mother was at risk. In the Campbell’s case, the life of the babies was at risk if their condition was left untreated.

Then, Chris learned that one of the legislators sponsoring the abortion ban in Pierre was an old family friend. He sent her a letter explaining the situation that their family had just gone through and the impact the bill would have on other situations like theirs.

That’s when the Campbell’s story became public.

“I was at home, I received a phone call, and it came up on caller ID as Sioux Valley… And so, I answer, I think it’s one of my doctors, and it wasn’t. It was a Dr. Glenn Ridder. And he just goes on to say, you know, what you had done wouldn’t be banned under this,” Tiffany remembered of the call.

But as the conversation continued, Tiffany began to wonder how Ridder had found out about her abortion. At that time, only immediate family knew of their situation. Ridder informed her that the letter her husband sent to a lawmaker had been shared with him.

“And he just at the end yells, ‘We have to quit killing our babies!'” Tiffany said.

In 2008, Ridder spoke with KELOLAND News about the proposed measure.

“The bottom line is measure eleven would prevent the use of abortion as a means of birth control and would not affect the ethical practice of medicine in this state for anybody,” Ridder said.

The call spurred Tiffany into action and while she was on bedrest due to the abortion and her pregnancy, she began making calls to local organizations who were trying to defeat the proposed abortion ban. After sharing her story with some of the organizers, they suggested she go to the press to share her abortion more publicly.

Eventually, the 2006 ban was defeated but in 2008 a new measure was introduced: Initiative 11. Again, it was placed on the ballot for voters to determine whether abortion should be banned. So, Tiffany and Chris, and their then-9-month-old son Brady, became the face of campaign against the measure.

The family appeared in commercials and spoke with NPR about how the measure would have impacted the choice they made. They also spoke to KELOLAND News.

“It’s not, ‘Oh, I’m pro-choice.’ ‘I’m pro-life.’ It’s not that easy,” Tiffany said at the time.

Brady Campbell. Photo courtesy: Tiffany Campbell

Now, 16 years later with abortion officially banned in South Dakota, Tiffany said she’s afraid for other women.

“I mean, there are so many complications that can arise during pregnancy where an abortion would be needed,” Tiffany said.

That includes one friend Tiffany made around the time of her abortion who was also pregnant with twins who had TTTS. Tiffany said that the couple from North Dakota wanted to take time to think about the decision to terminate and by the time they went to their next visit, both babies had died.

Tiffany pointed out that in the years since her abortion in Ohio, the laws have become stricter and the procedure that saved the life of her son could no longer be performed. The doctors that worked with the Campbell family ended up leaving the state to continue to provide care elsewhere, Tiffany added.

There are currently two abortion bans in place in South Dakota: One specifically for telemedicine abortions and the other for abortion, generally.

The telemedicine abortion ban specifically excludes miscarriage management from being punishable by the law. The 2005 trigger law banning abortion however does not include language regarding miscarriage or other medical procedures that require an abortion.

The law reads that an abortion is considered a Class 6 felony, “…unless there is appropriate and reasonable medical judgment that performance of an abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant female…”

Several Democrat and Republican state lawmakers have told KELOLAND News that they would like to add clarifying language to the current ban.

Today, Tiffany says her son Brady is a healthy, active 15-year-old boy.

In the time since his birth, Tiffany has become a public advocate for abortion rights in South Dakota, testifying against abortion bills in three states and helping women access abortion care.