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February 24, 2004
S.D. Abortion Ban Opposed by “Foes” of Abortion
A legislative proposal to virtually ban abortion in South Dakota ran into an unlikely obstacle over the weekend: the South Dakota Right to Life movement.
Some abortion foes said they feared that the frontal assault aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade could backfire and instead help to solidify the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, with South Dakota paying more than $1 million in legal costs to underwrite the setback.
The state House had passed the ban 54 to 14 this month, and a majority of the Senate had signed on as cosponsors. But a Senate committee Saturday eliminated most of the bill’s original language and substituted language that tightens the state’s informed-consent requirements for doctors who perform abortions.
The committee vote was 5 to 4, with abortion opponents on both sides.
The full Senate will take up the issue today, with backers of the ban vowing a fight to restore their original language.
Legislators opposed to further restrictions on abortion continued to attack the absence of an exception for rape and incest in the original bill. Ban advocates responded with testimony from a Minnesota woman who said that she was conceived when her mother, then 15, was raped. Her mother carried her to term and put her up for adoption.
“My life is not worth any less than yours just because of the way I was conceived,” she said.
The woman, who testified by telephone, was identified as Pam Stencil, but neither her age nor her address was provided. Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, who arranged for the woman’s testimony, said that she lives on a farm in southwestern Minnesota.
The original bill, written by Rep. Matt McCaulley, R-Sioux Falls, with help from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., would make it a felony for anyone to perform an abortion in South Dakota except to save the life of the mother.
The bill offered no exceptions for abortions to preserve the health of the mother or for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. McCaulley and other supporters said the ban needed to be kept as unencumbered as possible so it could fulfill its purpose: forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade.
The original bill declares that life begins at conception. It also says that three decades of abortion have harmed women — a finding that McCaulley said is meant to counter “social factors” that have pushed the court to reaffirm Roe v. Wade since 1973.
“The Supreme Court has never seen a case where it could consider the kind of evidence we have now concerning the origin of life and the horrible effects of abortion on women,” McCaulley said in a Star Tribune interview last week.
Opponents, led by Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota, applauded elimination of the proposed ban. “South Dakotans do not support making felons out of doctors who provide abortions necessary to protect a woman’s health, or for victims of rape or incest,” said Kate Looby, state director for Planned Parenthood, whose Sioux Falls clinic accounts for almost all abortions performed in the state.
But the substituted changes to the state’s informed-consent policy “could create serious, and at times insurmountable, obstacles for women seeking safe and legal options,” Looby said. “Such policies have been roundly denounced by the American Medical Association and have the potential to create increased medical risks for women.”
Sen. Jay Duenwald, R-Hoven, a longtime opponent of legal abortion, was among legislators who maneuvered Saturday to remove the ban and substitute the more incremental step of a tightened informed-consent requirement.
“We know this isn’t a winning issue in its original form,” Duenwald told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper after the committee acted.
But proponents were holding firm, promising a floor fight.
“This is an issue you can’t compromise down,” Sen. Dick Kelly, R-Sioux Falls, told the Argus Leader.
McCaulley, too, vowed that his proposed ban “is very much alive,” supported by “many people who want to do something right.”
(Information from Minneapolis Star Tribune)
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