Rounds signs bill to ban abortion

Rounds signs bill to ban abortion
Gov. Mike Rounds signed a bill March 6 that will effectively ban all abortions in South Dakota.

House Bill 1215 prohibits all abortions except those performed to save the life of the mother. But it allows the use of emergency contraceptives before a pregnancy is determined such as those that might be taken following a sexual assault. Those performing abortions illegally under the bill would be subject to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Rounds indicated when lawmakers passed the bill that he would likely sign it. Rounds vetoed a similar bill passed by lawmakers two years ago because he said it would have eliminated abortion regulations during court challenges of the proposed law.

It has been speculated that House Bill 1215 also would be challenged in court and may not go into effect for two to three years if at all.

"Because this new law is a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade interpretation of the Constitution, I expect this law will be taken to court and prevented from going into effect this July," Rounds said. "That challenge will likely take years to be settled and it may ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court. Our existing laws regulating abortions will remain in effect."

Planned Parenthood, which operates the state's only abortion clinic, has vowed to challenge the law, its South Dakota director, Kate Looby, said.

"Today Gov. Rounds criminalized health care for women in South Dakota," Looby said. "Outlawing health care for women goes against the basic values of South Dakotans, the vast majority of whom support access to legal abortion. Planned Parenthood will challenge this law in orderto protect the health and rights of the women and families we serve. All options are being considered at this time."

That could include putting the issue on the November ballot. If that happens, Rounds says South Dakotans will decide if they want the ban. The law would not go into effect until voters made a decision, Rounds said.

"It is not unusual to have laws passed by the Legislature placed before the people of the state," Rounds said in a special news conference March 7.

He said his preference would be to take Roe v. Wade apart "one piece at a time" by gradually passing more and more restrictions that also would be challenged in court. He thinks it's more likely the current Supreme Court would consider those cases. No one can determine whether a direct attack on Roe v. Wade would succeed.

"The only way to find out is to allow it to happen once," he said. "If we allow it to happen in this particular case it may not be heard."

The court also could hear the case and then choose to reaffirm the Roe ruling.

"That's a risk the very ardent pro-life supporters face," he said.

The House sponsor of the measure said he talked to Rounds March 2 and answered questions about the bill.

"I'm very pleased with what Gov. Mike Rounds has done," Roger Hunt, R-Brandon, said. "He has accepted our explanations and answers and has signed the bill."

During the drafting stage Hunt said he and other supporters of the ban made sure the technical issues Rounds had two years ago were fixed.

"I think he was appreciative of that fact," Hunt said. "Gov. Rounds is a strong pro-life governor."

It was estimated that the court challenge of HB 1215 could cost at least $1 million. An anonymous donor is rumored to have volunteered to give that amount to pay for the court battle.

Leslee Unruh, founder of the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls, said there are consequences to speaking out against abortion that the donor may not care to experience. She said she's been persecuted for her right-to-life stance.

"There's been a real backlash to those of us who have stood up," Unruh said. "I'm just grateful there are people like that who are willing to put their money where their mouth is."

She has already received donations from people who want to help with the court case and is forwarding them to the governor's office. Rounds' spokesman Mark Johnston said the state has received $250 in donations. The Alpha Center received a $10,000 check the day Rounds signed the bill.

There's no way that anybody can give an estimate, Hunt said, on how much the lawsuit will cost. A task force met during 2005 and gathered information and testimony from expert witnesses that he said might help the state in court.

The majority opinion of that task force stated that life begins at conception, a determination not made by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Roe ruling. Hunt says scientific information collected since 1973 gives new information about when life begins.

All of the "boxes and boxes" of information collected will save the state money in manpower and investigation costs, Hunt said. There also are apparently legal teams in the country willing to donate their time.

"It's a possibility it won't cost the state anything," Unruh said.

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