South Dakota: Senate votes in favour of banning state's already threadbare abortion services Print E-mail


Sioux Falls, South Dakota -- February 23 2006

Senate OKs abortion ban

Amendments send bill to House to reconcile changes before Rounds' decision


PIERRE - A bill designed to urge the Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling that legalized abortion passed its highest hurdle Wednesday, clearing the South Dakota Senate with a 23-12 vote.

HB1215, which declares that human life begins at conception, would ban most abortions in South Dakota.

The bill now goes back to the House, which passed an earlier version and now must decide whether to accept changes made by the Senate.
The bill, which almost certainly will be met with a legal challenge, then would go to Gov. Mike Rounds.

While several other states are considering similar measures, South Dakota would be the first to pass a broad bill banning abortion in all instances except to save the life of a pregnant woman.

"The bill is so facially unconstitutional, the likelihood that it will not be challenged in court is practically nil," Jennifer Ring, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas, said after the vote.

Lawmakers spent more than an hour debating the bill, which has thrust South Dakota into the national spotlight.

National abortion rights groups and those that oppose abortion reacted swiftly to the vote Wednesday afternoon.

Democrat Sen. Julie Bartling of Burke, the bill's main Senate sponsor, said the time is right for the ban on abortion.

"In my opinion, it is the time for this South Dakota Legislature to deal with this issue and protect the rights and lives of unborn children," Bartling said. "There is a movement across this country of the wishes to save and protect the lives of unborn children."

The bill seeks to make abortion a felony but wouldn't allow charges to be filed against a doctor who performed the procedure during an attempt to save the life of a pregnant woman.

The governor vetoed a similar abortion bill two years ago, saying he feared it would wipe out existing state restrictions on abortion and leave the state with no law while a court fight waged.

Supreme Court shift
Supporters of the bill maintain that a changed Supreme Court - with the recent appointment of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito - might be more amenable to reconsidering Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal.

Abortion opponents also speculate that Justice John Paul Stevens could retire within the remaining years of Bush's presidency, and that the president could appoint a judge who could swing a decision reversing the law.

"I believe it is a fight worth fighting," said Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark.

Greenfield and Sen. Jay Duenwald, R-Hoven, both active in the anti-abortion movement, voted against a similar bill in 2004, largely because of timing, but voted for the ban Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Stan Adelstein of Rapid City had tried to amend the bill to include an exception for abortions for victims of rape.

The amendment lost 14-21.

"To require a woman who has been savaged to carry the brutal attack result is a continued savagery unworthy of South Dakota," Adelstein said.

Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, objected.

Rape should be punished severely, Schoenbeck said, but the amendment is unfair to "some equally innocent souls who have no chance to stand and defend themselves."

The Senate also defeated a proposed amendment to insert an exception to allow an abortion to protect the health of a pregnant woman. That was offered by Sen. David Knudson, R-Sioux Falls.

It failed on a 13-22 vote.

Knudson also opposed the bill on its unconstitutionality.

"I do not believe it makes sense for South Dakota to lead the charge on this issue when we know the outcome," Knudson said.

Senators who favor the ban on abortion also killed an amendment that would have sent the issue to a public vote and another amendment that would have created a special abortion litigation fund to accept donations to pay for a lawsuit.

Abortion opponents have said an anonymous donor has pledged $1 million to the governor for the state's potential legal fees.

Rounds has said he doesn't know the donor's identity.

Rounds also has not said how he would act on the bill.

The bill's author, Rep. Roger Hunt, R-Brandon, has said he crafted the legislation to take care of Rounds' objections from 2004.

"We have to recognize that each time we propose one of these and each time a court refuses to allow it to go up the line, we reinforce in some peoples' minds that abortion, since it is legal, is morally correct," Rounds said last week.

The Senate State Affairs Committee last week added language to the measure saying the Legislature finds that the South Dakota Constitution equally protects "born and unborn human beings," and that a pregnant woman and a fetus each possess a "natural and inalienable right to life."

It's now up to the House to decide whether to approve that amendment to the bill.

Abortion rights groups on Wednesday vowed to fight the bill if it passes Rounds' desk.

"South Dakota is entering dangerous territory with this ban," Planned Parenthood Federation of America senior staff lawyer Eve Gartner said in a written release. "Planned Parenthood will go to court to ensure women, with their doctors and families, continue to be able to make personal health care decisions - not politicians."

National reaction
The National Abortion Federation and NARAL Pro-Choice America also issued statements denouncing the bill and called for Rounds to veto the ban.

"Rather than continuing these unconstitutional assaults that threaten to endanger women's lives and imprison doctors, these legislators should commit to enacting common-sense legislation to prevent unintended pregnancy," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Meanwhile, many abortion opponents rejoiced at the news and urged Rounds' to support the measure.

Leslee Unruh, the Sioux Falls-based founder of the Alpha Center pregnancy counseling clinic, said the bill reaffirms the South Dakota Task Force on Abortion's findings that "abortion hurts women."

"South Dakota's Legislature heard the cry of those who have been harmed by abortion and passed this bill to protect women and children," Unruh said.

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said in a statement that the timing of the bill's passage in the Senate coupled with the Supreme Court's decision this week to reconsider the federal partial-birth abortion ban meant optimism for abortion opponents.

"We applaud the courage of the South Dakota Legislature in voting to ban abortion and end this tragic violence against women and children," Mahoney said.

Reach Megan Myers in Pierre at 224-2760.