Thursday, June 08, 2006

Republicans opposed to abortion ban lose in S.D.

Republicans opposed to abortion ban lose in S.D.
By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

Four Republican state senators who voted against South Dakota's abortion ban lost their primary elections, raising questions about support for an effort to repeal the controversial state law.

"There's certainly no good news in the outcome for pro-choice advocates," Bob Burns, a political science professor at South Dakota State University, said Wednesday.

The defeat Tuesday of half of the eight Senate Republicans who opposed the nation's most restrictive abortion law might mean trouble for a planned referendum in November to rescind the ban, Burns says. The other four had no primary challengers.

The results "mean that the state of South Dakota is very pro-life," says state Sen. Bill Napoli, who voted for the ban and won his primary.

In March, Republican Gov. Mike Rounds signed legislation banning all abortions in the state unless the mother's life is endangered. The ban will take effect July 1 unless the referendum qualifies for the ballot.

Last month, referendum organizers submitted petitions with 38,416 signatures — more than double the number required. Secretary of State Chris Nelson said Wednesday that the verification process will be completed before July 1.

The large number of signatures, Burns says, might be evidence of broad unhappiness with the ban. Even some abortion opponents, he says, "see a need to add exceptions" such as incest and rape.

"There's a lot of work to be done between now and November," says Jan Nicolay of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which organized the petition drive. Tuesday's low turnout means the results might not be a good gauge of voters' thinking, she says.

State Sen. Duane Sutton, one of the GOP senators who voted against the ban, lost his primary. He says abortion was the top issue even though he talked mostly about the economy and schools.

Sutton doesn't regret his vote. "I would not change it," he says. "If we have good turnout in November, voters ... will overturn what the Legislature did."

Leslie Unruh of the Sioux Falls Alpha Center, which counsels women on alternatives to abortion, said in a statement that the results "show that South Dakotans know abortion harms women."

Rounds was unopposed in the GOP primary. The Democratic winner was Jack Billion, a retired surgeon who says on his campaign website, "Making abortions illegal only makes abortions unsafe."

Monday, the Louisiana Legislature sent an abortion ban to Gov. Kathleen Blanco. She is likely to sign it, but it would take effect only if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, or if a constitutional amendment allowing states to ban abortion is ratified. Ohio will debate an abortion ban next week.

In all, 14 states have considered bills that would ban abortion in all or most cases, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The South Dakota ban prompted threats of tourism boycotts, but there is little evidence of them. The state offered 35,000 vouchers for $20 of ethanol-blended gas, and all were snapped up.

"Quite a few people sent in upset e-mails" at first, says Tyler Lamphere, a coordinator of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. After a few weeks, "we didn't hear from anybody." Ted Hustad of Wall Drug, a tourist spot in Wall, S.D., says, "I expect a great summer."

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