Tuesday, March 07, 2006

South Dakota bans most abortions

South Dakota bans most abortions
By Michael Conlon

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Republican governor of South Dakota on Monday signed a law banning nearly all abortions in the state, directly challenging the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of the practice 33 years ago.

The action cleared the path for a legal battle that will take years to resolve, Gov. Mike Rounds predicted, and forces on both sides of the issue immediately began to mobilize.

Abortion foes hope to use the South Dakota law to eventually bring the issue back to the high court, where they believe conservatives added to the bench by President George W. Bush and others who may join it in the future could weaken or dismantle the court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

The measure, passed by the state legislature on February 24, would "eliminate most abortions in South Dakota," Rounds said in approving the law.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, which backs abortion rights, put an emergency appeal for money on its Web site, urging its supporters to help with a costly battle.

"This law is a monumental setback for women in South Dakota and across the country," said Nancy Keenan, president of the group. "Anti-choice politicians in 11 other states are pushing similar bans. President Bush has created a climate with his judicial appointments in which anti-choice lawmakers feel emboldened ..."

David Bereit, executive director of the American Life League, called the South Dakota development "tremendously encouraging news."

He predicted the law and similar measures emerging in other states would "accelerate the appeals process" and bring the matter back before the high court.

Backers of the legislation "believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree," Rounds said.

"Because this new law is a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade interpretation of the Constitution, I expect this law will be taken to court and prevented from going into effect this July. That challenge will likely take years to be settled."


The law bans abortion in almost all cases, punishing doctors who perform one with five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. It bans abortion even in cases where a woman is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or if giving birth would damage the health of the mother.

It 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.

No suits against the law were filed immediately. But Planned Parenthood, which operates the sole abortion clinic in South Dakota where about 800 of the procedures are performed each year by doctors from neighboring Minnesota, said it was preparing a challenge.

"All options are being considered at this time," said Kate Looby, state director for the group. The governor, she said, "cares more about politics than about the reproductive freedom of women in South Dakota."

Looby said: "Our doors remain open. We will not be closing, hopefully never."

She said the group was looking at how best to take on the law in court and at the possibility of putting the matter up for a statewide referendum. She said a majority vote against it would prevent the law from taking effect.

"Abortion has never been put before the voters before. I don't think they can win on either count," countered Troy Newman, head of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue in Wichita, Kansas.

"The timing couldn't be better and reflects the momentum the pro-life movement has today," Newman said. "It's a grass-roots movement that's propelling the legislatures, the governor, the president, and ultimately the Supreme Court to nullify the permissive abortion laws."

Even before Rounds signed the measure into law, backers in South Dakota said am anonymous donor had pledged $1 million to help the state fend off legal challenges to it.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern)