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ELECTION 2008 | S.D. Secretary of State Certifies Petition To Put Abortion Ban on Ballot

ELECTION 2008 | S.D. Secretary of State Certifies Petition To Put Abortion Ban on Ballot
[April 28, 2008]

South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson (R) on Friday certified that a petition to ban abortions in the state with few exceptions had more than the number of signatures required to put the measure on a statewide ballot in November, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, the initiative -- which is similar to a 2006 ballot question rejected by South Dakota voters -- is "widely seen" as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade (Davey, New York Times, 4/26).

Under the initiative, physicians performing outlawed abortions could be charged with a Class 4 felony, which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail and a $20,000 fine. Abortions would be permitted only in cases of rape or incest, to save a woman's life, or in cases of a "substantial and irreversible" health risk of impairment to "a major bodily organ or system." The 2006 law (HB 1215), rejected 56% to 44% by voters, would have banned all abortions except to save a pregnant woman's life (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 12/18/07).

According to Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota-North Dakota-South Dakota, exceptions for rape and incest would require law enforcement to be notified. She added that the exception for health risks would require extensive documentation from physicians, who would be required to make quick decisions in the face of possible felony charges. Although there are technically exceptions to the ban, Stoesz said that the proposed law would make it "nearly impossible" to get an abortion, adding that she does not believe the state's voters want to debate the issue again (New York Times, 4/26). Abortion-rights supporters said they were not surprised by the new initiative, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Jan Nicolay, co-chair of South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which is working to defeat the ballot measure, said, "When abortion opponents didn't get a similar bill through the Legislature last year, they made it clear they would take it to the people" (Smith, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 4/25).

Some abortion-rights opponents are saying that the initiative's exceptions are too lenient, while others said they prefer limiting abortions through other restrictions that "fall short of a direct attack" on Roe, the Times reports. Leslee Unruh -- executive director for the antiabortion group, which organized the effort to collect the signatures for the ballot measure -- dismissed both criticisms. She said the initiative is "not a ban -- it's stopping abortion as birth control" (New York Times, 4/26). Unruh said her group will now spend time raising funds and recruiting more volunteers for the campaign (AP/Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 4/25).