SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Early voting has begun in South Dakota and the Democratic Party is rallying to connect with voters before they head to the polls.

Executive director Berk Ehrmantraut told KELOLAND News that the party will be hosting a rally this weekend in Sioux Falls to address reproductive health in South Dakota.

“We know that there’s not going to be a ballot measure on the ballot in 2022 about abortion, but it’s still on the ballot in that Democratic candidates are going to be standing up every day in Pierre and in Washington D.C. for folks’ right to choose,” Ehrmantraut said. “And this rally is an opportunity for folks to, you know, express what they’re feeling and find ways to get engaged with these candidates and with the electoral process as we go toward a really important election in November.”

Ehrmantraut said that their party is focusing on electing candidates that support reproductive freedom in order to bring that perspective to Pierre in 2023

“You know, we’ve seen South Dakota as a state, repeatedly reject at the ballot box an abortion ban in South Dakota,” Ehrmantraut said. “But we’ve seen the legislature contravene that, you know, the Republican majority in the legislature, has now basically enacted an abortion ban in South Dakota, except for in extremely limited circumstances.”

In 2006 and 2008, voters rejected two separate abortion bans placed on the ballot. A recent poll from South Dakota News Watch found that in a poll of 500 registered voters, the majority were not in support of a full abortion ban and instead many were in favor of access to abortion medication and allowing for exceptions for rape and incest.

Ehrmantraut added that the Democrats have heard from South Dakota doctors who say the current abortion ban has made their job difficult. In August, KELOLAND News spoke with a Sioux Falls OB/GYN who said she and her colleagues were struggling with how to interpret the current trigger ban and how it impacted the care they provide.

“And so, there’s gonna be a lot of decisions the legislature has to make starting in 2023, about how we change our laws. And we know that Democrats are going to be there fighting for folks’ reproductive freedom, and the right to choose, and to make sure that, you know, everyone is able to live a happy, healthy life,” Ehrmantraut said.

And it’s not just the Democrats that are thinking ahead to what they might do with the current trigger ban. A KELOLAND survey of legislative candidates found that the majority of candidates, regardless of political party, were in favor of clarifying the abortion ban.

Representative Taylor Rehfeldt, who is seeking reelection in District 14, has described herself as “pro-life” during past legislative sessions. In her answer to the poll, the Republican candidate said that the law needs to be clarified.

“I personally have had high-risk pregnancies,” Rehfeldt wrote. “As a healthcare provider, I also understand the fear and anxiety that comes with having chronic medical issues. I want to ensure women like myself can receive the healthcare they need during pregnancy. What counts as preserving a woman’s life? Does the woman have to be immediately dying with a heart attack, hemorrhage, or stroke? Can a woman with cancer receive chemotherapy/radiation? These are just a few examples and there are countless scenarios to address. The exemption language should support medical providers and enable them to utilize their best medical judgement.”

Rehfeldt was among 32 candidates who wanted to clarify the trigger law. Some, like Rehfeldt, wanted to add clarification to what the “life of the mother” meant for physicians, others wanted to add exceptions for rape and incest, while some wanted to repeal the law entirely.

But nine of the candidates who replied to our survey did not want any changes to the law, with two candidates wanting to clarify the law to further restrict access.

Ehrmantraut said that Democratic candidates in South Dakota have been hearing from voters that the current abortion ban is not in line with where the people of South Dakota stand on this issue.

“And so, yeah, there’s a lot of work to be done in the legislative session, to make sure that, you know, really common sense and obvious changes, like exceptions for incest and rape, are made in our law. You know, that’s a clear starting point. But we also need to go beyond that because there’s so many situations where we need to make sure that people have access to reproductive health care,” Ehrmantraut said.

Beyond 2022, Dakotans for Health is hoping to place the question of abortion access in voters’ hands and Republicans are already mobilizing against the ballot measure. Representative Jon Hansen (R-Dell Rapids) has formed the Life Defense Fund to formally oppose the measure.

Hansen has stated in a Right to Life newsletter that those opposed to abortion, “…must stand next to their petition circulators, explain to the public how radical this amendment is, and encourage our fellow citizens not to sign the petition.”

The Democrats are focused solely on 2022 right now and getting their candidates elected to Pierre. After, Ehrmantraut said they’ll start looking ahead to 2024 and the potential abortion measure that could be on the ballot.

“Because there are so many important things that need to be voted on the ballot and candidates that we need to make sure to get elected to advocate for abortion access through to 2024. Because 2024 is too late for changes to be made,” Ehrmantraut said.

This weekend’s abortion rally will be held at Fawick Park at 2 p.m. in Sioux Falls. Ehrmantraut said that in addition to hearing directly from candidates, there will also be voter registration tables and opportunities for action for those interested.