South Dakota governor signs abortion ban

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South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds
South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds has signed into law a measure banning most abortions in his state.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

(AP) - Gov. Mike Rounds signed legislation Monday banning nearly all abortions in South Dakota, setting up a court fight aimed at challenging the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

The bill would make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion unless the procedure was necessary to save the woman's life. It would make no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Planned Parenthood, which operates the state's only abortion clinic, in Sioux Falls, has pledged to challenge the measure in court.

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.

Rounds, a Republican, issued a written statement saying he expects the law will be tied up in court for years and will not take effect unless the U.S. Supreme Court upholds it.

"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 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," Rounds said in the statement.

The governor declined all media requests for interviews Monday.

The Legislature passed the bill last month after supporters argued that the recent appointment of conservative justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito have made the U.S. Supreme Court more likely to overturn Roe v. Wade.

South Dakota's abortion ban is to take effect July 1, but a federal judge is likely to suspend it during a legal challenge.

Rounds has said abortion opponents already are offering money to help the state pay legal bills for the anticipated court challenge. Lawmakers said an anonymous donor has pledged $1 million to defend the ban, and the Legislature set up a special account to accept donations for legal fees.

Under the new law, doctors could get up to five years in prison for performing an illegal abortion.

Rounds previously issued a technical veto of a similar bill passed two years ago because it would have wiped out all existing restrictions on abortion while the bill was tied up for years in a court challenge.

The statement he issued Monday noted that this year's bill was written to make sure existing restrictions will be enforced during the legal battle. Current state law sets increasingly stringent restrictions on abortions as pregnancy progresses. After the 24th week, the procedure is allowed only to protect the woman's health and safety.

Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood, said the organization has not yet decided whether to challenge the measure in court or to seek a statewide public vote in November. A referendum would either repeal the abortion ban or delay a court challenge to the legislation.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed that Governor Rounds has sided on the side of politics rather than on the side of the women of South Dakota to protect their health and safety," Looby said.

She said Planned Parenthood would continue providing services that include family planning, emergency contraception and safe and legal abortions.

About 800 abortions are performed each year in South Dakota. Planned Parenthood has said other women cross state lines to reach clinics.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)