Abortion battle gears up

Restrictions on abortion that would be
the most severe since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the
practice 33 years ago are likely to turn South Dakota into an
expensive legal battleground should they become law.

Legislation on Republican Gov. Mike Rounds’ desk would ban
abortion in virtually all cases, punishing doctors who perform
one with a $5,000 fine and five years in prison, and directly
challenging what is currently the law of the land.

The measure would ban abortion if a woman was pregnant as a
result of rape or incest, or if giving birth would damage the
health of the mother. It would allow an abortion to save a
woman’s life.

Rounds indicated he would sign the proposal into law after
scrutinizing it. He vetoed a similar provision two years ago on
a technicality, although he favored it on merit.

“If the bill is correctly written, then I will seriously
consider signing the bill. It would be a direct frontal assault
on Roe vs. Wade,” the Republican governor said on ABC News’
“Good Morning America” on Saturday.

Even before he acts, there is money on the table. An
anonymous donor has pledged $1 million to help the state fight
the inevitable legal battle for the measure, backers of the
provision say. Abortion foes also are urging those in their
camp to mail in donations of $10 each to Rounds for the same

Those who oppose restrictions on abortion are drumming up
support and money to challenge the law.

The proposal comes from a grass-roots state-by-state
campaign by abortion rights opponents to find a vehicle by
which to challenge the high court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.
They believe an increasingly conservative court will be more
disposed to dismantling the earlier decision should something
like the South Dakota measure ever reach the justices.

South Dakota, which with 770,000 people is the 46th-largest
state in terms of population, finds itself the center of the
debate partly because of a calendar quirk, those on both sides
of the issue say.

The Legislature, controlled by Republicans by wide margins
in both houses, only meets in January, February and early March
— unlike some states where the sessions go all year.

“If they want to get something done, they have to get it
done fast,” said Troy Newman, president of Kansas-based
Operation Rescue, which opposes abortions.

Beyond that, he said, the South Dakota lawmakers were “some
of the most courageous and brave pioneers in the pro-life


Newman said “this is the beginning of a momentum that is
sweeping across the country” and one that picked up steam after
President George W. Bush’s appointment of Samuel Alito to the
U.S. Supreme Court added to its perceived conservative tilt.

“The pro-life community in South Dakota is very strong,”
said Jim Sedlak, vice president of the Virginia-based American
Life League, who called the state “fertile ground” for a test

Kate Looby, director of Planned Parenthood in South Dakota,
said the short legislative session was a factor but in general
“the South Dakota legislative body is far more conservative
than the average citizen of South Dakota, particularly on
issues like abortion.”

In the 2004 presidential election, South Dakota backed Bush
over John Kerry 59 percent to 38 percent — a far wider margin
than the 50 percent to 48 percent difference by which Bush won

Looby said her group was prepared to challenge the bill if
Rounds signed it, although a decision on whether to start in
state or federal court had not been reached.

Planned Parenthood operates the sole clinic in South Dakota
that provides abortions. About 800 are performed there each
year by doctors from neighboring Minnesota, according to Looby.

Two years ago, Rounds vetoed a similar bill, saying it
would wipe out existing restrictions on abortion while it was
fought in the courts. A rewritten bill lost narrowly in the
state Senate at that time.

Legislatures in Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee
and Indiana all have measures before them that would heavily
restrict abortions.

© 2006 Reuters