June 19, 2006

State to vote on abortion ban in November

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - South Dakotans will vote
in November on the fate of a new state law, one of the most
restrictive anti-abortion measures in the United States,
banning the procedure even for women made pregnant by rape or
incest or those whose health is in danger.

Abortion rights supporters have gathered enough signatures
to let voters decide whether South Dakota should keep or reject
the measure, crafted by conservative state lawmakers to give
the U.S. Supreme Court a platform for overturning the 1973 Roe
v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson certified on
Monday that the required 16,728 signatures had been gathered
and the repeal initiative would appear on the ballot.

"We will encourage all South Dakotans to join us in
repealing this extreme law that has embroiled our state in
controversy and threatens our government with million dollar
lawsuits," said Jan Nicolay, who led the petition drive for the
South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families.

Written to take advantage of the U.S. high court's
anticipated rightward shift after Republican President George
W. Bush named his first justices, the measure would ban
abortions, including of pregnancies resulting from incest or
rape, and subject doctors who carry out abortions to fines of
$5,000 and up to five years in prison.


The law does not provide an exception for a woman's health
and if a pregnant woman's life is in jeopardy, the measure
mandates that doctors must try to save the fetus as well as the
woman. The law states: "the guarantee of due process of law
under the Constitution of South Dakota applies equally to born
and unborn human beings."

"It doesn't have a health exception, which is a core
element of Roe versus Wade," NARAL Pro-Choice spokesman Ted
Miller said. "South Dakota is the only one that has passed
something of this nature in the country."

Shortly after Republican Gov. Mike Rounds signed the law on
March 6, abortion-rights supporters launched a petition drive
to nullify its July 1 implementation and put the issue before
voters in the thinly populated midwestern state in November.

If the repeal fails, opponents promised a court challenge
that could ultimately reach the Supreme Court.

Similar laws banning abortion are moving forward in 14
other U.S. states, including one signed on Saturday by
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco that would become effective if
Roe v. Wade were overturned.

The Ohio House of Representatives held a hearing on a bill,
which is not expected to pass, that would ban abortion even for
women whose lives are endangered by pregnancy.

The U.S. Supreme Court, widely believed to have shifted to
the right after Bush appointed Chief Justice John Roberts and
Associate Justice Samuel Alito, announced on Monday it will
review a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found a
federal "partial-birth" abortion ban unconstitutional.

Congress passed that ban in 2003, but Planned Parenthood
challenged it in California, Nebraska and New York, where it
was struck down by federal courts.

"It is unusual for the Supreme Court to hear something
there is no disagreement on," said Nancy Keenan, president of
NARAL Pro-Choice America. "This is where we could see the
evisceration of Roe."