In a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationally, South Dakota on Wednesday moved closer to passing the nations most restrictive abortion law.
The proposed legislation, which passed in the state Senate by a vote of 23-12, would ban the procedure in all circumstances except to save the life of the mother. Despite last minute pleas by some lawmakers to add more exceptions, the bill also prohibits abortion in cases of rape and incest.
"This bill is as straight forward and as honest as it can be. It just says no more abortions unless the life of the mother is threatened," said state Sen. Bill Napoli (R-Rapid City).
The sponsors of the bill say they want to force the courts to reexamine the abortion issue adding that medical advances during the past 33 years have shown that life begins at conception.
"[I]t is time for this South Dakota Legislature to deal with this issue and protect the rights and lives of unborn children," said Sen. Julie Bartling (D-Burke). "There is a movement across this country of the wishes to save and protect the lives of unborn children."
The proposed abortion ban comes at a time when the Supreme Court is in a transition period. Two new justices have been appointed to the bench in the past several months.
The newly constituted court with Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito has already shown a willingness to dive into the abortion debate. The Court said on Tuesday that it will hear arguments later this year in a case involving a federal ban on a type of late-term abortion which opponents call partial-birth abortion.
Courts in several states have already ruled that the law is unconstitutional because it does not provide an exception for the health of the mother, a key requirement of the Roe court decision in 1973.
In South Dakota, Planned Parenthood, which runs the only abortion clinic in the state, said that it would file a lawsuit if the proposed legislation is signed into law by the governor.
"South Dakota's ban is the most sweeping abortion ban passed by any state in more than a decade. Planned Parenthood will go to court to ensure women, with their doctors and families, continue to be able to make personal health care decisions not politicians," Planned Parenthood Federation of America lawyer Eve Gartner said in a written statement.
Patrick Mahoney, president of the Christian Defense Coalition, meanwhile, stated that the tide is turning against the Roe v. Wade decision.
"The optimism in the pro-life community also surged yesterday when the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on banning partial-birth abortion, he said Wednesday. All of these things indicate that Roe is slowly, but surely, being chipped away at.
Our hope and prayer now is that Governor Michael Rounds will sign this bill and send a clear message to the other states to affirm the dignity of life."
Exception for Rape
Although an amendment to the bill adding an exception for rape was considered by state senators, the proposed change was defeated 14-21.
"To require a woman who has been savaged to carry the brutal attack result is a continued savagery unworthy of South Dakota," said, Sen. Stan Adelstein (R-Rapid City), according to the Argus Leader.
However state Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) objected. He said rape should be punished severely but added that a rape exception is unfair to "some equally innocent souls who have no chance to stand and defend themselves."
The proposed legislation must be still be reconciled in the House and Senate because of a minor difference in the Senate and House versions. Afterwards, the bill would need to be signed by Gov. Michael Rounds (R), an abortion opponent who has not publicly stated his opinion about the bill.
The law would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, unless it is to save the mothers life.