Let the abortion battle begin

Abortion rights supporters planned to launch an attack on Friday on a new South Dakota abortion law designed as a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion 33 years ago.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, signed the law, widely considered the most restrictive in the nation, about two weeks ago. The measure bans nearly all abortions, even in cases of incest and rape, and says that if a woman’s life is in jeopardy, doctors must try to save the life of the fetus as well as the woman.

An abortion rights coalition, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, said it would lay out its strategy to take down the law in mid-morning news conferences in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

Abortion opponents have been counting on a legal challenge to the law and hope that the case could eventually take the intensely divisive issue all the way back to the U.S. Supreme Court.

With two conservative justices recently appointed, and Republican President George W. Bush expected to get at least one more appointment before leaving office, abortion opponents believe the court would be primed to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established the right to abortion.

But officials with Planned Parenthood, which operates the only clinics in South Dakota that provide abortions, said a lawsuit may not be filed immediately.

Instead, abortion rights supporters may try to take the issue before South Dakota voters in November. State law allows ballot referendums seeking to overturn legislation.

“When you take things to the courts you don’t have the opportunity to engage the public in the process. You don’t have the ability to build a movement,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kate Looby.

If they choose to pursue a referendum, abortion rights supporters must collect more than 16,700 signatures by June 19 to get the issue on the ballot for the November 7 election.

If they fail to get enough signatures by the deadline and there is no further legal challenge, the law would take effect on July 1.