Opponents Vow To Fight Abortion Law

Zeb Nelson, 9, stands with his mother, Karen Nelson, right, Jerri McKinley, second from left and Dale Stange, at a 3-6-06 Sioux Falls, S.D., demonstration called to show support for South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds' signing on 3-6-06 into law a bill banning nearly all abortions.
AP Photo/Argus Leader
South Dakota Republican Gov. Mike Rounds says he expects the fight over the anti-abortion bill he signed into law Monday will last for years and will ultimately wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He doesn't expect that the legislation — which would make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion except to save the mother's life — will go into effect in July, as it is now supposed to do.

The measure is a direct challenge to the 1973 Roe v Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Rounds says it gives the high court a chance to reconsider the opinion it rendered in that case, in the same way that the court used its ruling in 1954's Brown v. Board of Education case to ban segregation, contradicting the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson upholding some forms of segregation.

Planned Parenthood, which operates the state's only abortion clinic, in Sioux Falls, immediately pledged to challenge the measure, which it calls "extremist." The challenge could either be in court or by petition signatures to refer the measure to a statewide ballot in which voters would be asked to repeal the abortion ban.

"We fully intend to challenge this law," said Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood. "It's just a question of how."

Sarah Stoesz — president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS) — says the bill would criminalize health care for women.

"These abortion bans, and the politicians supporting them, are far outside the mainstream of America," says Stoesz. "A woman and her family, in consultation with her doctor and her conscience, should be making private, personal health care decisions — not politicians."

The bill was approved last month after supporters argued that the recent appointment of conservative justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito have made the U.S. Supreme Court more likely to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Explaining his support for the legislation, Rounds says he agrees with legislative sponsors that the test of a civilization is how it treats its most vulnerable and helpless people, and that unborn children are the most vulnerable and helpless.

The governor at the same time says the policy means the state must stand ready to help pregnant women.

"Our state is committed to helping greater numbers of pregnant woman who will allow their babies to grow inside them and be born," said Rounds. "In both the private and public sector in South Dakota, we have healthcare options, economic assistance before and after birth, adoption services, and, most importantly, people who want to help pregnant women, young mothers and their children."

Under the new law, doctors could get up to five years in prison for performing an illegal abortion.

Rounds notes that the measure was written to make sure existing restrictions would still be enforced during the legal battle. Current state law sets increasingly stringent restrictions on abortions as pregnancy progresses; after the 24th week, the procedure would be allowed only to protect the woman's health and safety.

According to the governor, abortion opponents are offering money to help the state pay legal bills for the anticipated court challenge. Lawmakers said an anonymous donor has pledged $1 million to defend the ban, and the Legislature set up a special account to accept donations for legal fees.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said her organization will urge people across the U.S. to fight for their reproductive freedom. Keenan notes that some other states are considering similar bans on abortion, and the South Dakota legislation will have an impact in other states.

"This is about more than just South Dakota. It's about the country," Keenan said. "The bottom line in all of it is elections matter."