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SD: Bill to Ban Most Abortions Goes to Governor for Signature

A bill that would ban almost all abortions in South Dakota was passed by the state House on Wednesday. The bill, previously amended and passed by the state Senate, now goes to Governor Mike Rounds (R), sometime next week. Rounds has not indicated whether he will sign the bill, but he has previously stated that Roe was wrongly decided, and as a state senator his voting record was anti-abortion, according to the Boston Globe. If this bill does become law, it is expected to be face immediate legal challenges.

The bill defines life as beginning at conception. As it was originally written, it would have banned all abortions, with an exception only to save the life of the woman. The Senate amended the bill to allow abortions if a major bodily function of the woman was threatened, according to the Aberdeen News. The House retained this amendment in the final version of the bill. An amendment to add an exception for victims of rape or incest was narrowly defeated in the Senate. Under the bill, women who undergo illegal abortions would not be prosecuted, but physicians who perform them could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, according to Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report.

"In a bold maneuver, a vocal minority aggressively seeks to strip women in South Dakota of their basic reproductive rights," said Beth Jordan, MD, Medical Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Not only are abortion rights being attacked, but contraception is as well. South Dakota even refuses to mandate that hospitals offer rape victims emergency contraception and further punishes its women by refusing, in this current bill, to sanction abortion even in cases of rape or incest."

The bill's author, Rep. Matt McCaulley (R-Sioux Falls), working with lawyers from the right-wing Thomas More Law Center in Michigan, hopes to use the bill to challenge Roe v. Wade. However, legal scholars believe such a challenge would be costly for South Dakota and ultimately unsuccessful. "This court is not going to overturn Roe," said University of Tulsa law professor and constitutional scholar Paul Finkelman, according to the Globe. "I don't think the votes are there." Political Science Professor Christopher Wolfe of Marquette University, who opposes legal abortion, believes that "until some of the justices on the court who support such abortion rights are replaced," Roe will remain intact, the Globe reports. Advocates on both sides of the abortion issue anticipate up to three Court vacancies in the next few years.

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Media Resources: Aberdeen News 2/25/04; Boston Globe 2/26/04; Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report 2/26/04; Argus Leader 2/26/04

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