Archive for Saturday, February 25, 2006

South Dakota abortion ban may set up Roe battle

February 25, 2006

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— South Dakota lawmakers approved a ban on nearly all abortions Friday, setting up a deliberate frontal assault on Roe v. Wade at a time when some activists see the U.S. Supreme Court as more willing than ever to overturn the 33-year-old decision.

Republican Gov. Mike Rounds said he was inclined to sign the bill, which would make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion unless it was necessary to save the woman's life. The measure would make no exception in cases of rape or incest.

Many opponents and supporters of abortion rights believe the U.S. Supreme Court is more likely to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion now that conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito are on the bench. Lawmakers said growing support among South Dakotans for abortion restrictions added momentum to the bill.

"I think the stars are aligned," said House Speaker Matthew Michels, a Republican. "Simply put, now is the time."

Planned Parenthood, which operates the only abortion clinic in South Dakota, has pledged to sue over the measure. About 800 abortions a year are performed in South Dakota.

Even with the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom Alito replaced, there still appear to be the minimum five votes needed on the high court to uphold Roe v. Wade. Supporters of the bill, however, said another justice could be replaced in the years it would take a case to reach the nation's highest court.

A judge is likely to suspend the abortion ban during the legal challenge, which means it would not take effect unless the state gets the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and wins.

Some opponents of the bill said abortion should at least be allowed in cases of rape or incest, or where the woman's health is threatened.

If a rape victim becomes pregnant and bears a child, the rapist could have the same parental rights as the mother, said Krista Heeren-Graber, executive director of the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault.

Gov. Mike Rounds answers questions about a bill that would ban abortions in the South Dakota Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, in Pierre, S.D. Rounds says he will have to see the bill before he decides what action he will take on it.

Gov. Mike Rounds answers questions about a bill that would ban abortions in the South Dakota Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, in Pierre, S.D. Rounds says he will have to see the bill before he decides what action he will take on it.

"The idea the rapist could be in the child's life : makes the woman very, very fearful. Sometimes they need to have choice," Heeren-Graber said.

Under the measure, doctors could get up to five years in prison for performing an illegal abortion. The House passed the bill 50-18 on Friday, and the Senate approved it 23-12 earlier this week. If signed, it would become law July 1.

Money for the anticipated legal fight is already pouring in. Lawmakers were told during the debate that an anonymous donor had pledged $1 million to defend the ban, and the Legislature is setting up a special account to accept donations.

"We've had people stopping in our office trying to drop off checks to promote the defense of this legislation already," Rounds said.

The governor said he thought it would be better to eliminate abortion in steps rather than all at once. Rounds indicated he does not share the view that Alito and Roberts will usher in sudden, dramatic changes in how the court views abortion. He said it could be a drawn-out legal battle, and noted that it is not even assured that the high court will hear the case.

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