S. Dakota Takes Aim At Roe V. Wade

Generic: South Dakota Abortion Ban, Abortions
State lawmakers voted Friday to ban nearly all abortions in South Dakota and sent the measure to the governor, who said he is inclined to sign it.

Under the legislation, doctors in South Dakota would face up to five years in prison for performing an abortion unless it was necessary to save the woman's life.

The bill directly targets Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. State lawmakers believe the nation's highest court is now more likely to reverse itself on the abortion issue because of the recent appointments of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

"They feel with the changing makeup of the Supreme Court that it is perhaps a time to start challenging Roe v. Wade, and they think especially with the addition of Alito and Roberts to the court that those are justices who would vote in their favor," says Jodi Schwan of CBS affiliate KELO-TV.

Planned Parenthood, which operates the only clinic performing abortions in South Dakota, has pledged to challenge the measure in court if Gov. Mike Rounds signs it into law.

"I've indicated I'm pro-life, and I do believe abortion is wrong and that we should do everything we can to save lives," Rounds said before the vote Friday in the House. "If this bill accomplishes that, then I am inclined to sign the bill into law."

The bill passed both houses of the Legislature earlier in the session, but the House had to agree to a Senate amendment. It passed 50-18.

The new restriction would become law July 1.

"This law almost certainly will never take effect, will never be used to prohibit anyone from having an abortion in South Dakota," says legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "It will immediately be challenged, in federal court, where the judge will essentially be required to block its enforcement because it is contrary to the law of the land that at least for the time being recognizes abortion rights."

Opponents of the bill argued that abortion should at least be allowed in cases involving rape, incest and a threat to a women's health.

If a woman who is raped becomes pregnant, the rapist would have the same rights to the child as the mother, said Krista Heeren-Graber, executive director of the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault.

"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.

Kathi Di Nicola, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa in Sioux City, said her clinic already serves some South Dakotans and is ready to assist others if needed. The Planned Parenthood clinic in South Dakota has performed about 800 abortions a year.

President Bush might have a chance to appoint a third justice in the next few years, and that could mean the nation's highest court would reverse its position on abortion, they said.

"This is a new strategy by opponents of abortion rights," says Cohen. "Instead of nibbling around the edges as then attorney Sam Alito suggested in 1985, they are attempting a direct frontal assault on Roe v. Wade in the hope that by the time these cases make it to the Supreme Court. the Court's makeup will be different, more conservative and more receptive to overruling Roe outright."

Other state legislatures are considering similar measures as South Dakota's. But South Dakota is the only state so far to pass such an abortion ban, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization in New York and Washington, D.C.