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South Dakota, Utah legislators consider bills
banning abortion, challenging Roe v. Wade

PIERRE, S.D. (BP)–Less than a year after South Dakota pro-lifers failed in their effort to place an abortion ban on the books, legislators there are trying again — and they’re not alone.

Pro-life legislators in both South Dakota and Utah are promoting bills that would ban abortion except in cases of rape, incest, the mother’s life or medical necessity. In both states, the goal is to pass a bill that will lead to a lawsuit and the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

South Dakota’s governor signed a bill into law last year banning abortion except to save the mother’s life, but a petition campaign placed the law on the ballot, where it was overturned.

Pro-lifers in both states hope the new bills, with more exceptions, will attract additional support. But some pro-lifers oppose the bills and say a lawsuit would set bad legal precedent because the Supreme Court isn’t ready to overturn Roe. Five of the nine justices are on record in supporting Roe. By the time any case reached the high court, though, its makeup may have changed.

The Utah bill passed a House committee Jan. 30 on a 6-2 vote.

“This is the most important legislation that I could possibly be involved with in the entire time I’m a state legislator,” said bill supporter and Republican state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We’re talking about preserving the sanctity of human life. The state of Utah should lead the charge.”

Jerrold Jensen, a Utah assistant attorney general, said a frontal attack on Roe v. Wade possibly could succeed.

“It’s going to be declared unconstitutional by the trial court,” he told KCPW radio in Salt Lake City. “It’s going to be declared unconstitutional by the Tenth Circuit. What does the Supreme Court do with it? We don’t know the answer to that. … It’s not unreasonable that the current court may well be willing to overrule Roe v. Wade.”

If the current court hears the case, all eyes would be on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has supported Roe in the past but also supported a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion, which was declared unconstitutional.

The Utah bill makes an exception for rape, incest, a mother’s life and “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” The Tribune reported. The South Dakota bill is identical for the first three categories; the fourth category would be to prevent a “devastating and irreversible injury to the mother’s health,” the Argus Leader reported. Two physicians from different practices would have to be in agreement.

Some South Dakota legislators who supported the ban last year say they may oppose this year’s bill because it’s being presented too soon after the previous bill’s defeat. But Democratic Rep. Kathy Miles, a bill sponsor, disagrees.

“I think when push comes to shove, the people of South Dakota are still pro-life,” Miles said, according to the Leader. “When is the right time to save lives and help women? Waiting another year? I don’t think so.”

In addition to South Dakota, an abortion ban passed in the Mississippi House last year before dying in conference between the House and Senate.
Compiled by Michael Foust.

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