Kristi Noem Bails on Campaign Stop Over Abortion Questions

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty/Courtesy of Elizabeth Davis/Courtesy of Leah Bothamley

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota—A campaign stop for Gov. Kristi Noem went off the rails on Tuesday after two women confronted her about the state’s extreme ban on almost all abortions.

Within minutes of touching down for an appearance at a virtual golf facility in Sioux Falls, the top Republican in the state bailed upon being pressed by the women on their personal abortion stories—and the dangerous new reality after Roe v. Wade.

Leah Bothamley of Spearfish and Tiffany Campbell of Sioux Falls approached the governor as she prepared to enter Golf Addiction, where a “Food Truck Tuesday” event was on offer.

Bothamley, 41, and Campbell, 46, support abortion rights and disagree with Noem’s support for a ban on most abortions in South Dakota. The measure went into effect immediately after the US Supreme Court issued it Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling that overturned Roe on June 24. Several states had such “trigger laws” in place, while others have moved to enact bans on the procedure in the weeks after the decision, which gutted what had been decades of constitutional precedent identifying a right to abortion.

Bothamley said she was tipped off that Noem would be at Golf Addiction, so she decided to drive across the state to talk with her.

It was a chance to get into “good trouble,” Bothamley told The Daily Beast, quoting the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy of Elizabeth Davis</div>
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Courtesy of Elizabeth Davis

She arrived at Golf Addiction and was there for about an hour when she saw Noem show up as part of a motorcade, Bothamley recalled.

“It was hard to tell it was her. I’ve never seen her in person, and she was kinda slinking in, kinda shyly, towards the event,” Bothamley said.

Bothamley called out her name and approached Noem, and then said, “I want my rights back,” which she said she repeated about five times.

She was also upset that Noem had called the notorious case of a 10-year-old girl from Ohio who was raped and sought an abortion across state lines in Indiana “a tragic situation” even as she doubled down on opposing abortion in such a case .

Bothamley said she felt Noem was playing “political theater” with a very real and dangerous situation. She repeatedly shouted, “Put my rights back on the ballot,” on Tuesday.

Bothamley has a 13-year-old son, but said she had an abortion because of a medical condition: both her legs have a form of paralysis that does not allow her to feel anything in her lower extremities. She recalled getting pregnant despite using birth control, and then successfully obtaining an abortion.

Pregnancies can be very dangerous for women as they grow older, Bothamley noted, including an increased risk of strokes. That is one reason she supports a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

For her part, Campbell said she walked up, shook hands with the governor, and engaged in a short dialogue, asking a technical question about the state’s abortion law. She has her own abortion story, having obtained one to end a pregnancy on Sept. 20, 2006. Campbell said she was pregnant with twins and was told she could not carry both to term, as NPR reported in 2008.

She had a radiofrequency endometrial ablation, aborting one of the fetuses. Campbell said such a procedure would not be allowed under the new abortion law. Noem disagreed, Campbell said, suggesting such procedures are permitted.

The South Dakota law, passed in 2005, says the only exception is in the case of an “appropriate and reasonable medical judgment” that “abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant female.” Most bans across the country include some ostensible exceptions.

But the reality is so far in post-Roe America is that doctors and other providers often operate in fear, unclear on whether and when they can safely perform the procedure, endangering women’s health along the way.

Campbell’s interpretation of the mostly untested law is that it only allows abortions if the health of the mother is at risk. That was not the case for her, she said. But after her abortion, she was able to deliver a son who is now a healthy 15-year-old; the other fetus was terminated by the procedure, although she carried it until giving birth.

“I said, ‘There is no exception in cases of multiples,'” Campbell said of her interaction with Noem. That is difficult to hear in both videos.

Campbell is no political novice, nor is she new to confrontation. She said she has been arrested four times in Washington, DC—three times while protesting against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018, and once during a protest in favor of trans rights.

She said she asked Noem to introduce a bill during the 2023 legislative session to allow for such exceptions to the law. Campbell said Noem responded that she does not bring bills or support bills, which Campbell, who worked as a lobbyist in Pierre, said is not accurate.

Gov. Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, told The Daily Beast that Noem listened to Campbell, “clarified some facts,” and then told her “let’s have that debate this legislative session.” He said Noem tried to make it clear that she never supports a bill “before she’s seen specific language” of the bill.

“Then she moved on to go interact with other South Dakotans,” Fury said.

Noem’s fellow Republican, Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, also was present, but did not speak with the women, although at one point he did hold up a hand to indicate someone, apparently Bothamley, should be quiet. She refused.

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Campbell was direct in her short exchange with the first-term Republican governor, who is running for a second term in the bright red state. Abortion has sparked considerable debate and some loud protests this year, however.

“I said, ‘I think women should make their own medical decisions and I’m sorry that you don’t either,'” she said. “And then she kind of looked at me, gave me a nasty little look. I said, ‘If you don’t think I should make my own medical decisions, you don’t respect me as a human being.’ And that’s when she really took off.”

Campbell said she has waited a long time to talk with the governor—whom she described as inaccessible to voters. Noem has campaigned by making brief stops across the state, but has not held many large gatherings or town halls, and turned down a debate with her Democratic opponent, state Rep. Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls, to be produced by South Dakota Public Broadcasting. They will engage in a single debate in Rapid City on Sept. 30.

“My intention was not to be aggressive. I was very calm with her,” Campbell said. “I didn’t raise my voice until she started to walk away from me. And then she lied. Which was just disappointing to me that she would lie blatantly to my face.

“I was just appalled at her behavior of lying,” Campbell said. “She couldn’t defend her anti-choice stance in cases like mine, so she had to run away.”

Noem’s spokesperson told The Daily Beast this was a rare occurrence.

“Governor Noem has had thousands of fantastic interactions with South Dakotans in every corner of the state, and she met with hundreds of folks in Sioux Falls yesterday,” Fury said.

Campbell said she also wonders how Noem, who has not ruled out running for national office, could handle the pressure of such a campaign if she ran away from a couple of South Dakotans asking her questions.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty/Courtesy of Leah Bothamley and Tiffany Campbell </div>
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Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty/Courtesy of Leah Bothamley and Tiffany Campbell

The proprietors of Golf Addiction indicated they were displeased with the fracas, posting a message on Facebook saying they were sorry Gov. Noem left without entering the business after she was “bombarded … with an aggressive demeanor.”

They said Noem chose to leave rather than allow the protesters to take over what was intended as a family event, and suggested the real news here was a governor being harangued by constituents.

“Tonight’s action from protesters only did the following. Show our kids how to hate, show our community how to become divided and take away others rights to freedom of speech,” the post said. “Receiving messages from family, friends and customers tonight letting us know they really wish they would have gotten a chance to meet Governor Noem but didn’t, is disheartening. We all had that right. Having a 6 year old go home upset and in tears because she didn’t get to talk to her Governor about horses, is not how this night should have gone.”

But at least one of their customers was on board with the protest.

Elizabeth Davis of Sioux Falls was at Golf Addiction with her husband Mitch Bartlett and their child when they saw the confrontation. Davis, who said she is “very pro-choice,” walked over and captured part of it on video.

“I felt it was an important thing to hear what Kristi’s response was, what she was answering to Tiffany’s questions,” she told The Daily Beast. “So I wanted to keep it rolling.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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