Feb. 13, 2006 – Lawmakers in South Dakota overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that would prohibit almost all abortions in the state. House Bill 1215 passed 47-22, after representatives voted against inserting amendments that would exempt women impregnated as the result of rape or incest. The bill, which now goes to the state Senate, makes an exception if the womenâ€™s life is in danger.
Citing controversial conclusions by the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion, the bill states that scientific studies and scientific advances show that life begins at conception, and â€œeach human being is totally unique immediately at fertilization.â€�
The bill further says that in order â€œto 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, abortions in South Dakota should be prohibited.â€�
Anti-abortion activists have long focused on South Dakota as a platform for their strategy to outlaw the practice nationally. According to a February 2004 story in the Boston Globe, anti-abortion activists from New Jersey, California and other states had traveled to South Dakota to support sympathetic lawmakers in their pursuit of abortion bans.
While a number of states have laws restricting abortions rights or even banning abortion altogether, the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade prevents states from enforcing these laws. However, anti-abortion activists believe new state-level laws will force the issue through the courts, ultimately bringing the issue of reversing Roe before the Supreme Court.
"What the public doesn't realize is that the building blocks are already in place to re-criminalize abortion if Roe is overturned," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, told the LA Times.
Representative Roger Hunt (R-Brandon), the chief sponsor of the South Dakota bill, said the timing is right for the "Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act," in the wake of the new Supreme Court appointments: conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
"Two very solid â€“ we feel â€“ pro-life candidates," Hunt told KELO-TV in Sioux Falls last month, "Again, you never know, but based on their testimony to the Senate we feel they're good candidates."
Hunt, who has also sponsored legislation banning same-sex marriages, was one of a strong majority of abortion opponents on the 17-member governor-appointed abortion task force. After the group issued a final report to lawmakers last month, the four pro-choice advocates on the committee â€“ including South Dakota State Director for Planned Parenthood Kate Looby â€“ charged that majority members changed its content and tone without their knowledge or approval.
The four issued their own "minority report" on abortion, which recommended "prevention of unplanned pregnancies through improved sexuality education and greater access to affordable birth control methods including emergency contraception."
Looby and the other three dissidents on the abortion task force proposed a package of legislation to promote sex education and access to contraception, but lawmakers are one step ahead of thwarting those efforts. Also passed last week in South Dakota was HB 1194, which prohibits distribution of contraceptives to students on public school property, unless it is done by the parent of the student receiving the contraception. After the overwhelming 51-17 vote, that legislation, too, now moves to the state senate.
South Dakota lawmakers are also considering a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment that would preclude "any right relating to abortion." If passed, the issue would go before voters in the next general election.
Meanwhile, a ban similar to that passed by the South Dakota House last week was introduced in Kentucky and has 36 co-sponsors; Indiana also saw the introduction of comparable legislation that would prohibit all abortions unless a womenâ€™s life is in danger.