S.D. could ban most abortions

PIERRE, S.D. — PIERRE, S.D. --Lawmakers here are preparing to vote on a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions in South Dakota, a measure that could become the most sweeping ban approved by any state in more than a decade, those on both sides of the abortion debate say.

If the bill passes a narrowly divided Senate in a vote expected today, and is signed by Gov. Michael Rounds, a Republican who opposes abortion, advocates of abortion rights have pledged to challenge it in court immediately - and that is just what the bill's supporters have in mind.


Optimistic about the new additions to the U.S. Supreme Court, some abortion opponents say they have new hope that a court fight over a ban here could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal around the country.

"I'm convinced that the timing is right for this," said state Rep. Roger Hunt, a Republican who has sponsored the bill, noting the appointments of justices John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the court.


"The strong possibility of a third appointee sometime soon makes this all very real and very viable," Hunt said, a reference to conjecture that Justice John Paul Stevens, 85, might soon retire. "I think it will all culminate at the right time."

Supporters of the bill, which has passed the House and a Senate committee, said they sensed encouraging signs from the Supreme Court, including yesterday's announcement that the justices will hear a challenge to a federal law prohibiting one specific abortion procedure.

Not since before 1992, when the Supreme Court reaffirmed a core right to abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, has a state legislature adopted a direct challenge to Roe, said Eve C. Gartner, a senior staff lawyer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Since 2005, bans similar to the bill have been proposed in at least five states, but those on both sides of the issue say the effort here has the strongest chance of succeeding. That possibility has brought a flurry of forces from both sides to this tiny state capital in recent days.

"While they are making political maneuvers, we're trying to fight for the women of South Dakota," said Kate Looby, the state director of Planned Parenthood in South Dakota. Looby said she spent hundreds of hours meeting with lawmakers and others on the vote. "I hate to envision the day when the women of South Dakota are treated differently than the women elsewhere when it comes to safe and legal health care."

The timing of all of this, though, has divided abortion opponents. Some, who argue that a failed Supreme Court challenge now might damage their efforts, have opposed the ban, placing them, somewhat awkwardly, on the same side as abortion rights advocates.

"I don't think it's the most prudent thing to do at this time," said Daniel McConchie, vice president of Americans United for Life, a group that opposes abortion rights. "It's really a long-shot type of situation."