Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Groups counterattack strict S.Dakota abortion law

Groups counterattack strict S.Dakota abortion law

PIERRE, South Dakota (Reuters) - Abortion rights supporters on Tuesday responded to South Dakota's strict new abortion law by organizing protests, raising money and debating whether to use legal action or a statewide vote to try to strike down the law.

The actions came a day after South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed what is considered the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. Backers of the measure, which outlaws abortions in virtually any circumstance, say it was designed as a vehicle to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a woman's right to an abortion.

Rounds said he expects the law to be mired in litigation for years. A Planned Parenthood official confirmed litigation was an option but said abortion rights supporters might try to kill the law quickly through a statewide referendum this fall.

"We haven't decided yet. We're trying to sort out our strategy," said Sarah Stoesz, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood operations in South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota. "Clearly the people are very unhappy about this law."

Stoesz said a statewide referendum would require "millions and millions of dollars" but she was optimistic the law would be rejected if put to a vote.

"All signs are certainly that we would win this," she said. "If the anti-choicers believed that they would win this they would have put this on the ballot as a constitutional amendment."

Abortion rights supporters are planning a "day of solidarity" on Thursday with supporters encouraged to rally at federal courtrooms across the nation, Stoesz said. An Internet fund-raising campaign also is under way.

Rounds held a press conference on Tuesday to reiterate his support of the law and his desire that it help lead to a ban on abortions across the United States.

"It is appropriate to do everything we can to save life, particularly the life of an unborn child," Rounds said.

The South Dakota law bans virtually all abortions at all stages of a pregnancy, even if it is the result of rape or incest. The law creates a narrow exemption in cases in which a physician's effort to save a pregnant woman's life results in the accidental death or injury of her fetus but says a physician must make "reasonable medical effort" to save the life of the fetus as well as the woman.

In anticipation of legal challenges, which are a necessity if the law is to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, the state has set up a fund to help defend the measure. Several donations already have been received, although in limited amounts, Rounds said. An anonymous donor has reportedly pledged $1 million toward the defense effort.

Abortion rights supporters said they were far short of the kind of funding they would need to overturn the law but hoped to change that.

In a separate action spurred at least in part by the South Dakota law, the NARAL Pro-Choice America abortion rights group has launched an ad campaign calling for federal and state lawmakers to work to prevent unwanted pregnancies instead of focusing on curtailing women's' rights.

NARAL is seeking support for improved access to birth control, sex education initiatives and increased support for family planning services.

Other states also are moving to pass sweeping anti-abortion laws including Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Indiana, and Ohio.

The moves come amid a shifting makeup in the Supreme Court. President George W. Bush, an avowed abortion opponent, is expected to get to name at least one more justice during his term, and abortion opponents hope that when combined with his other recent appointments, a new justice would swing the court majority to favor conservative views.