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South Dakota Governor Signs Abortion Ban Into State Law

By Monica Davey

Gov. Michael Rounds of South Dakota signed into law on Monday the most sweeping state abortion ban in the nation, an intentional provocation meant to set up a direct legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.

The law makes it a felony to perform any abortion except in a case of a mother’s life being in jeopardy. Though it is not scheduled to go into effect until July, officials working at the state’s only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, where about 800 abortions take place each year, said they spent much of the day consoling women.

“This is a very real issue for a lot of people,” said Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood. “That’s the part I think the legislators don’t quite understand.”

Rounds, a Republican, said in a statement after signing the legislation in Pierre that it was the right thing to do. The law will also almost certainly force a showdown before it ever comes into effect, an outcome its supporters, eager to overturn Roe, had intended.

“In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society,” the governor said. “The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them.”

Around the country, abortion rights advocates responded with fury, calling the new law “blatantly unconstitutional,” dangerous and counter to what a majority of Americans would support. Planned Parenthood, which operates the only abortion clinic in South Dakota, pledged to use every means necessary — whether a lawsuit or a statewide referendum — to sideline the statute.

Under state law, if opponents collect 16,728 signatures in the next three months the law will be put on hold until the November election.

“We’re trying to evaluate the timing and the options now, but we’re committed to making sure this does not come into effect,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a sad day for the women of South Dakota. We had really hoped that the governor would weigh women’s health as more important than politics.”

Leaders on each sides of the abortion debate said that South Dakota’s law had stirred new support and fervor for their causes. Abortion rights advocates reported a flood of donations and volunteers and membership requests since the proposed law began drawing national attention last month. Opponents said they, too, had had a flood of calls, including numerous donations to a defense fund to fight what is expected to be expensive litigation on behalf of South Dakota.

Already, the state’s move seems to have emboldened legislators opposed to abortion elsewhere. For months, similar bills had been proposed in the statehouses of at least a half-dozen states, including Ohio, Georgia and Tennessee, but some efforts have gained steam in the weeks after the South Dakota Legislature overwhelmingly passed its ban last month.