Sioux Falls, S.D. Two years after South Dakotans rejected a nearly total ban on abortion, voters on Nov. 4 will decide another sweeping but less restrictive ballot measure that would probably send a legal challenge of Roe v. Wade to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The initiative would outlaw abortions but includes exceptions for rape, incest and pregnancies that threaten the life or health of the woman. Some voters said they wanted those exceptions when they rejected the tougher 2006 measure 56 percent to 44 percent.
Opponents say the new measure would jeopardize the patient-doctor relationship because physicians could be criminally charged for exceeding its bounds. They also argue that its exceptions are too narrowly defined and that it would force some women to carry an unhealthy fetus.
Leslee Unruh, the executive director of VoteYesForLife.com and the measure's main proponent, said it's legally sound.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said the initiative could threaten legalized abortion in every state, especially if it goes before a 2011 or 2012 Supreme Court that would probably tilt to the right if Sen. John McCain becomes president.
McCain's Democratic rival, Barack Obama, supports the right-to-abortion principles of Roe v. Wade and would be less likely to appoint justices who would consider overturning it.
Colorado and California also have abortion-related measures on the Nov. 4 ballot, but "this is one of the worst bans," Smeal said of the South Dakota proposal.
"This ban, which was defeated pretty solidly last time, is essentially the same ban this time but the language is more defective. We take it very seriously and so we're hoping that it will be defeated," Smeal said.
Unruh said that the measure might provoke a legal challenge but that her focus is on preventing abortions in South Dakota.
"We'd be the first abortion-free state," she said.
If the measure becomes law, some procedures would no longer be allowed at the health system, such as termination of pregnancies in which the fetus is likely to die, the memo says. Also, vague language about the mother's health would create the risk of criminal penalties, it states.