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S.D. governor signs historic abortion ban; supporters hope to see Roe overturned

PIERRE, S.D. (BP)–In an action that supporters hope will result in the overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds March 6 signed a bill into law that bans nearly all abortions in the state.

Rounds’ signature was historic, marking the first time since the 1973 Roe ruling that a state has adopted such a wide-sweeping ban on abortion. The law would take effect July 1 if not overturned and bans all abortions except in cases to save the mother’s life.

Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s only abortion clinic, is expected to file suit in federal court to have the law overturned. The bill’s supporters acknowledge that it likely will be struck down but they hope to see the Supreme Court take up the case and reconsider its decision in Roe, which legalized abortion nationwide. It is estimated that more than 47 million abortions have been performed in the 33 years since Roe.

“In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society,” Rounds, a Republican, said in a statement. “The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them.”

The bill passed the South Dakota House of Representatives in late February, 50-18, and the state Senate, 23-12. It received support from both Republicans and Democrats, men and women. The bill’s Senate sponsor was a female Democrat.

The law makes it a felony for anyone to perform an abortion, although the mother would not be charged with a crime. The bill does not ban so-called “morning after pills,” which can prevent the implantation of an embryo into the womb.

The new law — named the Women’s Health and Human Life Protection Act — states that “life begins at the time of conception” and that an unborn child “is totally unique immediately at fertilization.” The fact that life begins at conception is a “conclusion confirmed by scientific advances since the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade,” the law states. It further asserts that abortion must be banned in order “to fully protect the rights, interests, and health of the pregnant mother, the rights, interest, and life of her unborn child, and the mother’s fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child.”

Rounds, in fact, made it a point to say that pro-lifers must embrace and counsel women who are facing an unwanted pregnancy.

“If we are pro-life, we must recognize the need to take care of women who are faced with a difficult pregnancy,” he said. “Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy, we cannot protect the innocent child, unless we protect and care for the mother. We must help each mother to see the value of the gift that is a child, and nurture the mother for her own sake and for the sake of her child.”

Other states are considering similar legislation. Mississippi’s House of Representatives passed an abortion ban March 2 that provides exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

The outright bans have split pro-lifers, some of whom worry that such legislation will do more harm than good by further entrenching Roe as legal precedent. They note that of the Supreme Court’s nine members, five are on record as supporting Roe. But the bill’s supporters counter by pointing to the age of the high court’s justices. For instance, Justice John Paul Stevens, who supports Roe, is 85 and could be retired by the time the case ends up before the court. It could take two to three years for the case to make it that far, supporters of the bill say.

Rounds did not mention any particular Supreme Court justices but did point to history in arguing that the “reversal of a Supreme Court opinion is possible.”

“For example, in 1896, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Plessy versus Ferguson case that a state could require racial segregation in public facilities if the facilities offered to different races were equal,” Rounds said. “However, fifty-eight years later, the Supreme Court reconsidered that opinion and reversed itself in Brown versus Board of Education. It proclaimed that separate could not produce equal. The 1954 Court realized that the earlier interpretation of our Constitution was wrong.”

The new law, he said, “will give the United States Supreme Court a similar opportunity to reconsider an earlier opinion.”

The ban already is being mentioned in money-raising campaigns by pro-choice groups. Planned Parenthood posted a statement on its website, saying it would “use all legal options available to prevent this law from taking effect.” By clicking on a link under that statement, readers were taken to a page seeking contributions. Likewise, NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights organization, posted a link on its website stating, “South Dakota poised to ban abortion. Help us fight back today.”

Tony Perkins, president of the pro-life Family Research Council, said the South Dakota law shows “how our system of government should work.”

“For far too long, elected leaders have based their policy decisions upon how a judge or judges might react to the enacted policy,” he said in a statement. “The South Dakota legislature sent a bold statement to the rest of the nation that the day of judicial intimidation is over; human life will be protected in South Dakota.

“The passage of this law is a reflection of growing pro-life sentiment across the country and points toward a post-Roe era,” Perkins said. “Technology and information about embryonic and prenatal development have steadily overcome the myths and lies about abortion and the millions of babies whose lives have been destroyed by it. Give the people or their elected representatives a voice and you will find that most of America wants major changes in the abortion-on-demand regime that has stood only by judicial fiat for 33 years.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust