Rounds defends abortion law

Rounds defends abortion law
Gov. Mike Rounds told participants of the American Indian Journalism Institute Thursday that South Dakota politicians must weigh what they believe is right and wrong when they consider issues affecting the separation of church and state.

"Everybody has their own belief in right and wrong," he told the young journalists in a meeting at the Al Neuharth Media Center on the campus of The University of South Dakota. "There is a difference between what we say is legal and what we say is morally or ethically correct."

At times, Rounds said, leaders impose what can be defined as a moral decision when taking a stance on a particular issue.

"The challenge then is not to impose a set religion, or force a religion on other people," he said. "What we should have is a tolerance for people who wish to worship the good Lord in the way they see fit."

Rounds, who is seeking re-election to a second term, said he hopes to continue to work to improve economic vitality in all areas across South Dakota, including Indian country.

"One of the things that tribal governments lack right now are funds, and the ability to raise funds themselves," the governor said. "It's more cost-effective to enhance that ability and make it part of a uniform system across the state."

He favors allowing tribes to collect their own state sales taxes which would be returned on behalf of the tribal members.

"When we do that, they then have revenue in which to make infrastructure developments and improvements," Rounds said, "that government should be doing."

Social services on Indian reservations, he said, is one area that faces unique challenges because of a lack of funding. There are times, the governor said, when a judge must make a decision about the fate of a child that needs supervision or has been termed delinquent or doesn't have a home.

"We're trying very, very hard to formulate a good policy that coordinates with members who live on the tribal properties to try to get members of the same culture or family members, if possible, to try to raise those children," Rounds said.

South Dakota also seeks opportunities to enhance tourism and economic development for tribes by allocating community development block grant funding, he said.

"In many cases, a tribe may have an idea for a business, but they don't have a clear understanding of whether it will work or not," the governor said. In those cases, the state will allocate funds and put together a research team to help build a business plan for that idea.

"I really do believe that there are huge opportunities out there for us, but you have to develop that trust and that comfort level to be able to share that information back and forth," Rounds said.

The governor and the Indian journalists discussed the ramifications of HB 1215. The bill was passed by the South Dakota Legislature during the 2006 session, and signed into law by Rounds.

If it survives legal challenges and a public vote this fall, the new law would make all abortion in the state illegal, except to save the life of the mother.

"The intent of the sponsors was clearly to direct a challenge to the current interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade," Rounds said. "At the same time, I made it clear if they sent me a bill, it had to protect our existing laws, because this bill would not go into effect until, at the earliest, four or five years from now.

Rounds noted that the bill will be challenged by a referendum vote this fall brought by South Dakotans who believe the bill goes too far.

"After the referendum, if the people say they want the bill to go through because they want Roe vs. Wade challenged, it will first go to a federal judge who will hold it as being unconstitutional," the governor said.

The legislation will then be appealed to the federal Circuit Court of Appeals, he said, and will then go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court could decide not to hear the bill, or decide to hear the bill and either modify or reaffirm Roe vs. Wade.

Should the court decide to change Roe vs. Wade, they may decide that states have the ability to regulate abortion, meaning South Dakota would be given the power to prohibit abortions within its borders.

"South Dakota currently has 700 abortions that occur within the state each year," the governor said. "We have multiple charities and churches that made it clear that no woman who has a concern about economics or the inability of being able to pay for the care of a child � none of them will have to bear the cost themselves."

The Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls and a host of other organizations, he said, have pledged to help women.

One of the young journalists noted that Native American women in South Dakota are more than three times likely to be victims of sexual assault than women of other races. He wondered why the abortion legislation doesn't address this.

"I don't think you'll find any law that specifically tries to identify Native Americans as being treated differently than anyone else," Rounds said. "I don't believe that there should ever be an item built into any law that treats one culture or race differently

than others."

He reminded the young journalists that South Dakota's abortion bill is designed to be a challenge to Roe vs. Wade and is not yet in effect.

"It won't go into effect until such time as the U.S. Supreme Court has the time to review it," Rounds said. "In the meantime, our laws remain in effect.

"If you really want to get to the heart of Roe vs. Wade, the question is should the United States Supreme Court interpret the United States Constitution to say the states cannot protect an unborn child."

Some people have said the Supreme Court will never change its mind. If that's the case, Rounds said, America would still have separate but equal drinking fountains, busing and housing facilities.

In 1954, in Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself on the issue of segregation in this country, Rounds said.

"The members of the pro-life belief say that the same type of interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is wrong, and if given the opportunity, the Supreme Court will rule that states have the right to regulate abortion," Rounds said.

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