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South Dakota bill that bans abortion, challenges Roe v. Wade heads to governor

PIERRE, S.D. (BP)–A bill that would ban nearly all abortions in South Dakota and spark a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is heading to the governor.

The South Dakota House of Representatives gave final approval to the bill Feb. 24 on a 50-18 vote, two days after the state Senate passed it, 23-12. It now goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, who is pro-life and has indicated he would sign it.

Rounds’ signature would mark the first time since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide that a state legislature has passed such a sweeping ban. The bill, known as H.B. 1215, makes an exception for the life of the mother.

“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 was quoted as saying in the Associated Press. “If this bill accomplishes that, then I am inclined to sign the bill into law.”

Pro-choice groups are expected to file suit against it, and a federal court almost certainly will strike it down as unconstitutional. Pro-lifers in South Dakota hope the Supreme Court eventually takes the case and overturns Roe. For that to happen, one of two things would need to take place: Either there would need to be another retirement from the high court, or one of the current members would need to change his or her vote. Of the court’s nine members, five are on record as supporting Roe.

It could take two or more years for the lawsuit to reach the high court. If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, the issue of abortion would be up to each state.

The bill states that “life begins at the time of conception” and that an unborn child “is totally unique immediately at fertilization.” 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.”

In passing the bill, the Senate amended it to make it even more pro-life, adding a sentence to state that the due process clause of South Dakota’s constitution “applies equally to born and unborn human beings.”

“[U]nder the Constitution of South Dakota, a pregnant mother and her unborn child … each possess a natural and inalienable right to life,” the amended bill states.

The House debated the amended bill less than five minutes, with Rep. Roger Hunt, the House sponsor, supporting the change. He was the only speaker.

“We’re seeking to draw attention to the fact,” he said, that the state constitution protects the rights of both “born and unborn human beings.” The Senate amendment, Hunt said, “strengthen[s] this bill in the event that the bill is subject to future litigation.”

The bill has drawn support from Republicans and Democrats, men and women. In speaking for the bill Feb. 22, Senate sponsor Julie Bartling, a Democrat, called the unborn child “a separate human being, not a piece of tissue.”

“The unborn child demands and deserves protection under our Constitution and under our state laws, and I believe it’s now time to abolish abortions in South Dakota,” Bartling said.

But the bill has divided the pro-life community, some of whom worry that its defeat at the Supreme Court could further entrench Roe v. Wade as legal precedent, making it tougher to overturn Roe in the future.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press Feb. 22 that if he were a South Dakota legislator, he would have voted for the bill.

“The South Dakota legislators cannot let the Supreme Court dictate to them what they think is the right thing to do,” Land said. “They have to follow their own consciences.”

More than 47 million abortions have been performed in the 33 years since Roe.

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  • Michael Foust