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South Dakota governor unveils proposal to ban almost all abortions

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on Friday unveiled a proposal to ban nearly all abortions, mimicking a Texas law that leaves enforcement up to private citizens through lawsuits instead of through prosecutors and criminal charges.

The governor has previewed the legislation for weeks, and it has received an enthusiastic reception from fellow Republicans who dominate the Legislature. The law would prohibit abortions once medical professionals can detect fetal cardiac activity, which is usually around the sixth week and is before some women even know they're pregnant.

Courts have blocked some states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas' law has so far been allowed to stand in part because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens. The conservative-led Supreme Court in December returned a lawsuit over Texas' six-week abortion ban to a federal appeals court that has twice allowed the law to stay in effect, rather than to a district judge who sought to block it.

Noem's law would punish people who aid someone in getting an abortion with a minimum $10,000 penalty, in addition to legal fees and other potential compensation. It makes no exception for rape or incest, except stipulating that a man who commits the rape or incest cannot sue.

The private enforcement of the Texas law has been criticized as creating a "vigilante" justice system. It has also led some Texas women to seek care out of state.

"Personal privacy and reproductive rights are among our most important constitutional liberties," Jett Jonelis, the advocacy manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said in a statement. "But Gov. Noem doesn't seem to care about our constitutional rights."

South Dakota has just one clinic that regularly offers abortions, but Noem's proposed restrictions, which also include one of the nation's strictest limitations on access to abortion pills, would wipe out nearly all abortion access in the state. Just 10 women in South Dakota received an abortion during their first six weeks of pregnancy in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available from the state's Department of Health.

Noem said in a statement that she was hoping the Supreme Court would strike down Roe v. Wade - the 1973 landmark decision that established a nationwide right to an abortion. South Dakota has a law that would outlaw abortions if that happened.

The governor added, "But until that comes to pass, these bills will ensure that both unborn children and their mothers are protected in South Dakota."

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