South Dakota lawmakers recently approved the nation's most far-reaching ban on abortion, setting the stage for new legal challenges that its supporters say they hope lead to an overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The measure, which passed the state Senate 23 to 12, makes it a felony for doctors to perform any abortion, except to save the life of a pregnant woman. The bill was designed to challenge the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe , which in 1973 recognized a right of women to terminate pregnancies. Its sponsors want to force a reexamination of the ruling by the court, which now includes two justices appointed by Republican President Bush.
"The momentum for a change in the national policy on abortion is going to come in the not-too-distant future," said Rep. Roger W. Hunt, a Republican who sponsored the bill. To his delight, abortion opponents succeeded in defeating all amendments designed to mitigate the ban, including exceptions in the case of rape or incest or the health of the woman. Hunt said that such "special circumstances" would have diluted the bill and its impact on the national scene. Hunt has also said that when the inevitable challenge to the ban is filed in court, the ban's supporters will be prepared for a costly court fight with $1 million already pledged by "an anonymous donor.”
Kate Looby, director of Planned Parenthood of South Dakota, which plans to immediately challenge the ban, said that while she was not surprised, she was still a "little shocked" by the vote. "Clearly, this is a devastating day for the women of South Dakota," she said. "We fully expected this, yet it's still distressing to know that this legislative body cares so little about women, about families, about women who are victims of rape or incest."
The antiabortion movement has focused primarily in recent years on a state-by-state effort to enact restrictions on access to abortion, including pushes for parental-notification laws and waiting periods before the procedure may be performed. A 1992 Supreme Court decision again affirmed a right to abortion in a Pennsylvania case, known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that said states cannot put an "undue burden" on women getting access to abortions.
Not all antiabortion groups agreed with the South Dakota supporters' effort to directly challenge Roe. "If you're just reading the law as it stands now, South Dakota's law doesn't really stand any chance under Roe or Casey . I have to agree with those who think it's remote," said Chuck Donovan, executive vice president of the Family Research Council and a former lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee.
Still, some abortion opponents are more confident than they have ever been that Roe could be overturned with two new conservative members of the high court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
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