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LIFE DIGEST: La. governor says she will not veto abortion ban; supporters of S.D. law may challenge petitions for vote; …

WASHINGTON (BP)–Louisiana may soon be on record as outlawing most abortions if, and when, the United States Supreme Court reverses its 1973 decision invalidating state bans on the procedure.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced June 2 she would not veto legislation that prohibits abortion with two exceptions –- to protect the mother’s life when there is a “substantial risk of death” or to deter “serious permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ,” The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

The Louisiana House passed the abortion ban 85-17 in a May 31 vote. Though the Senate approved the bill in April, it will have to affirm the House-passed version after that body added the “substantial risk of death” and “permanent impairment” language, according to The Times-Picayune.

Blanco, a Democrat, said she would have preferred the bill include exceptions in cases of rape and incest. The House voted 66-37 against an amendment that would have permitted abortion in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy in the cases of rape and incest, the newspaper reported.

“There should be no exceptions,” Rep. Danny Martiny, a Republican, said, according to the newspaper. “We are either pro-life or we are not pro-life.”

Under the bill, penalties would include prison sentences of one to 10 years and fines of from $10,000 to $100,000, The Times-Picayune reported.

The Louisiana measure differs from a law enacted in South Dakota earlier this year. Unlike that measure, the Louisiana version would go into effect only if the Roe v. Wade ruling is overturned or a federal amendment protecting unborn life is ratified.

The Roe opinion struck down all state bans on abortion and, coupled with a companion decision, had the effect of legalizing abortion throughout the country in all stages of pregnancy. Of the nine justices currently on the high court, five are on record in support of Roe.

ACTION IN S.D. -– Advocates for an abortion ban in South Dakota may challenge a petition calling for a referendum on the new law.

Meanwhile, a Sioux Indian council barred all abortions on its reservation and suspended a president who sought to establish a clinic on its land for women seeking to eliminate their babies.

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families turned in petitions containing about 38,000 signatures May 30 in an effort to place the issue on the November ballot, according to the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader. Secretary of State Chris Nelson must confirm about 16,700 of the signatures are from registered state voters in order for the initiative to qualify for a public vote, the newspaper reported.

South Dakota enacted the law, which prohibits abortion except when the mother’s life is endangered, in March. The measure is the most expansive restriction on abortion since the Roe ruling.

If the initiative fails to be certified for the election, the law will take effect July 1. Qualification by the initiative for the ballot will mean enforcement of the law will be delayed until the November vote. If voters affirm the law at the polls, the measure will take effect after the election results are official, although opponents are expected to challenge it in court, the Argus Leader reported.

Pro-life leader Leslee Unruh said there had been discussion among the law’s advocates about examining the petitions.

“The petition circulators “were not from South Dakota, and they were not asking for driver’s licenses,” said Unruh, head of both the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls and Abstinence Clearinghouse, according to the newspaper. “I think they need to be looked at.”

A primary legislative supporter of the law said he considers a public referendum part of the process.

“That’s a right of the people,” Rep. Roger Hunt said, according to the Argus Leader. “I do believe if it gets on the ballot, the people of South Dakota are going to support” it.

Such affirmation could produce a “wave of enthusiasm” for such attempts in other states, Hunt said, the newspaper reported.

The Olgala Sioux tribal council voted May 30 to prohibit all abortions on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and to suspend President Cecelia Fire Thunder for seeking, without its approval, donations on behalf of the tribe for an abortion clinic, according to the Argus Leader. The council removed Fire Thunder from her office for 20 days until an impeachment hearing takes place, the newspaper reported.

“It was unauthorized political activity,” said Will Peters, a tribal council member, according to the newspaper. “It’s just a matter of failing to communicate not only with the governing body but with the people that she was elected to serve.”

POLL: NO TO ESCR -– A new survey found a plurality of Americans opposes federal funding of stem cell research that destroys embryos.

The poll by International Communications Research showed these results: 48 percent of Americans oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), 39 percent favor it, 12 percent don’t know, and less than two percent declined to answer. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the survey.

The Senate is expected to vote soon on federal funding of ESCR. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810, is designed to undermine President Bush’s policy, which prohibits federal funds for destructive stem cell research. Bush’s rule allows funds for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence when his policy was announced in 2001. H.R. 810, which gained approval in the House of Representatives last year, would underwrite research that uses embryos left over at in vitro fertilization clinics.

“Congress should not be misled on this important issue,” said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-life Activities, in a written release. “Most Americans do not support federally funded research that requires destroying human embryos. Our opponents also know this. No doubt this is why their public statements -– and many of their own opinion polls –- either ignore or misrepresent what this research involves, while irresponsibly hyping its potential for miracle cures.”

The poll also showed Americans oppose human cloning to create human embryos for destructive research by 81 to 11 percent.

Pro-life organizations fervently oppose liberalizing the current federal policy because the extraction of stem cells from an embryo destroys the tiny human being. Most pro-life advocates support -– and the federal government funds – non-embryonic stem cell research.

Extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources -– such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow –- does not harm the donor and has produced treatments for such ailments as spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia. Embryonic research has yet to treat any diseases in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.