South Dakota lawmakers yesterday 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 proposal still must be signed by Gov. Mike Rounds (R), who opposes abortion.
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 President Bush.
Not all [Pro-Life] 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.
He said there is not a consensus for a national approach to finding a way to overturn Roe. "There are lots of voices out there and nobody has a single strategy, so South Dakota has stepped in to fill that void," Donovan said.
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. Roberts has not publicly expressed his view on abortion rights. Alito opposed Roe as a young Reagan administration lawyer and had a mixed record on abortion rights while a federal appeals court judge.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether a federal law banning a procedure that opponents call "partial birth" abortion is constitutional. The law passed Congress in 2003 but has been struck down by three federal appeals courts and has yet to take effect.
The partial-birth abortion case should come before the Supreme Court in the fall. I haven't yet heard any specualtion as to when this South Dakota case might make it to the Supreme Court.