March 3, 2006

US Battle Brews as S. Dakota Abortion Law Nears

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - U.S. abortion-rights defenders and opponents are preparing for battle as South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds considers whether to sign a state abortion ban that advocates hope will lead to a national Supreme Court showdown.

The Republican governor has until March 15 to sign or veto a bill passed by the state legislature on February 24 which would ban abortions in all circumstances. Amid wide expectations he will sign it, abortion-rights supporters are preparing lawsuits and warning legislators of repercussions come mid-term elections in November.

"There are consequences to this type of absolutely outrageous legislation," said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan.

Abortion opponents agreed that the South Dakota bill could have a broad impact, but said it would favor their effort.

"We think it is very significant," said American Life League vice president Jim Sedlak. "We celebrate the fact that a state has put forth legislation that has no exception. We believe when it gets to the Supreme Court... the court could use (the law) to declare personhood for the unborn baby in the womb."

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision established a woman's right to abortion, but activists on both sides of the issue believe the court may restrict abortion rights following President George W. Bush's two appointments.

The South Dakota legislation would ban abortion in all cases and at all stages of pregnancy, even within the first few weeks. Doctors who perform an abortion could be punished with a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.

In cases where a woman's life is in jeopardy, doctors who take medical action to try to save the pregnant woman must also "make reasonable medical effort" to save the life of the fetus under the law. If the fetus suffers "accidental or unintentional injury or death" the law states it will not be considered a violation.

The bill's passage follows a report by the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion that concluded that "life begins at the time of conception...including the fact that each human being is totally unique immediately at fertilization."

It is that language, coupled with the abortion ban, that abortion opponents say could help overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL and other groups pledged to fight the law in the courts and at the ballot box. "You are going to see a backlash to keep them from overstepping both freedom and privacy in this country," Keenan said.

Other states are also moving to pass sweeping anti-abortion laws, including Mississippi, which on Thursday passed a bill that would ban all abortions except when the life of the mother is in jeopardy or in cases of rape and incest. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has indicated he probably will sign the bill.