Looking Ahead: Whatís Next in South Dakota ?
The South Dakota abortion ban, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Rounds last month, is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2006.
The law is unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court precedents, which holds that states cannot put "undue burden" on abortion rights.
Supporters of the law - which bans abortion in all cases except if the motherís life is at risk - hope it could help challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. That ruling established that governments lacked the power to prohibit abortions.
Since the new law was passed, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, a group set up in the wake of the ruling, has been busy collecting the 16,728 signatures needed to put the ban on hold and refer it to a public vote in November.
If the group obtains the necessary signatures by June 19, the law will be put on hold until the voters decide its fate in the autumn. If the initiative fails, the law will go into effect on July 1. Under the law, doctors could get up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for performing an illegal abortion.
Prof. Martha Field of Harvard Law School told NOW it is likely that a federal judge would suspend the ban if it was challenged in court. The law would therefore not take effect unless South Dakota got the case to the US Supreme Court and won.
She does not believe the law would survive a Supreme Court battle. She said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is the swing vote in the Supreme Court and believes he would vote to uphold Roe v. Wade.
"I donít think the South Dakota ban would survive because Kennedy is the swing and he did vote pro-choice in Casey," Field said. Kennedy voted to uphold the right to an abortion in the Supreme Courtís 1992 decision on Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
South Dakota has one clinic that performs about 800 abortions a year, according to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls. Doctors fly in once a week from Minnesota to perform the procedure.