South Dakota Weighs Far-Reaching Abortion Ban
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. The South Dakota Legislature has passed a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in the state. The bill had already passed the State House and it cleared the Senate today by a vote of 23 to 12. The state's governor hasn't specifically said whether he will sign this measure into law. If it does become law, it would mark the most severe restrictions on abortion by any state in more than a decade. And it could become a test case for new challenges to Roe versus Wade. Johanna Sailor of South Dakota Public Radio has been covering the story and joins us now. And Johanna explains what this bill would do exactly.
JOHANNA SAILOR reporting:
The bill would criminalize nearly all abortions in the state of South Dakota. The only exception is to save the mother's life. That is if her life were to be put in jeopardy if she carried a pregnancy to term. Doctors would face a class five felony if they performed or prescribed any medicine that causes an abortion. And a key point in the legislation that it relies on, is that it says life begins at conception.
BLOCK: Tell us about the debate on this bill today, in the Senate in South Dakota.
Ms. SAILOR: Well it did pass the Senate 23 to 12, a pretty significant vote. There were a lot of amendments that lawmakers did try and change the bill, including one that was hotly debated was an exception for victims of rape or incest. Lawmakers came back to the point that what if a, a married woman with two kids was raped, and then was forced to carry the child to term? But those supporters of banning all abortions, or nearly all abortions, came back to the discussion that it's about protecting the unborn children. And the state has an interest to protect the unborn.
There is also another amendment that also failed that would have provided an exception for the health of the mother, that also was defeated.
BLOCK: So no exceptions for rape or incest, or for the health of the mother, then?
Ms. SAILOR: No, there are no exceptions.
BLOCK: We mentioned that the governor, Michael Rounds, is a Republican hasn't said whether he'll sign this bill. But what can you tell us about his views in general?
Ms. SAILOR: Well, Governor Mike Rounds has said that he opposes abortions, and he does want to make it more difficult for women to have the procedure. However, he refused to say whether or not he would sign or veto the bill at this point. He's going to wait 'til it comes to his desk, kind of under the logic that he didn't want to influence the State Legislature and their decision.
BLOCK: And if he does sign it, no doubt there will be court challenges, and likely they would reach to the Supreme Court.
Ms. SAILOR: Abortion rights activists have said they'll challenge this, bring it to court. And a bone of contention, too, among lawmakers has been over whether it will be successful. Those lawmakers that support banning abortion say that this is the right time to go forward with this legislation because of the recent change on the U.S. Supreme Court. And also they're relying on what they say is new evidence, scientific evidence, saying that life begins at conception. However, those other lawmakers are saying nothing's changed, and this will be deemed unconstitutional.
BLOCK: Johanna Sailor, thanks very much.
Ms. SAILOR: Thank you.
BLOCK: Johanna Sailor of South Dakota Public Radio speaking with us from Vermillion.
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