Abortion rights groups choose not to visit Mount Rushmore following a call by activists to boycott tourism in all of South Dakota as a protest against the state's recent abortion ban.
Since South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed the March 6 legislation that bans virtually all abortions in the state, the Mount Rushmore Parks Department has been flooded with e-mails about the ban, both pro and con.
"The majority of e-mails have been from people who say that they are not going to visit," said Gerard Baker, superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Park.
A smaller number of people also have been contacting the department to say "they will go out of their way" to visit in support of the ban, Baker said.
"People have a right to express themselves and do whatever they want," said Baker. "That's what this country is all about."
The boycott idea originated with the Women's Medical Fund of Madison, a Wisconsin-based abortion rights group, which threatened to call a national boycott of the state if the bill passed.
The bill, which passed, will become law on July 1 and is seen as a direct challenge to the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. Under the legislation, abortions would be permitted only in limited circumstances to save the life of the mother. The law does not make an exception for cases of rape and incest.
The boycott is going forward with the support of the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the Women's Medical Fund director.
"We want to support the women of South Dakota and send a message to other states that there is a peril to their livelihood if they take similar steps," she said.
Meanwhile, national abortion rights activists wait to see whether Planned Parenthood, which operates the only abortion clinic in South Dakota, will appeal the legislation.
In the interim, the "Bypass South Dakota" plan will continue, said Gaylor, who compared the measure to the 1990 Idaho potato boycott, in which pro-choice groups called for a boycott of Idaho's most lucrative industry in protest of a similar bill that would have banned abortion in the state. Idaho's then-governor, Cecil Andrus, vetoed the bill shortly afterward.
Pro-Life Wisconsin, a group that supports the ban, has tried to counteract the boycott by promoting tourism in South Dakota.
"We want to get word out that we're behind South Dakota," said Marc Tuttle, communications director. "There is a large pro-life voice who supports a total protection bill."
Tuttle's group issued a press release encouraging families to consider "sunny South Dakota" as a vacation spot. It states "the absence of people from the Women's Medical Fund and their cohorts will make South Dakota all the more delightful."
South Dakota's economy relies heavily on its summer tourism industry, with visitors flocking yearly to attractions such as the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial and Wind Cave National Park. Tourism is a $2 billion a year industry in the state.
Pro-choice groups plan to target attendees and sponsors of the state's annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, which takes place in August and draws thousands of bike enthusiasts to the town. Last year alone the event generated about a half-million dollars in tax revenue for the state.
So far, the boycott has had no apparent effect, officials said.
"South Dakota is one of the top destinations for summer travel," said Nicole Nordbye, of the State Department of Tourism. "We do not expect that to change."