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- New regents president named after Knudtson decides not to seek second term (12/18/17)
- Southeast rings bell for 807 December graduates (12/18/17)
South Dakota governor 'inclined' to sign bill banning nearly all abortions
PIERRE, S.D. -- Gov. Mike Rounds said he is inclined to sign a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in South Dakota, making it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion unless it was necessary to save the woman's life.
The ban, including in cases of rape or incest, was approved Friday by South Dakota lawmakers, setting up a deliberate frontal assault on Roe v. Wade at a time when some activists see the U.S. Supreme Court as more willing than ever to overturn the 33-year-old decision.
Planned Parenthood, which operates the only clinic in the state that provides abortions, vowed to sue. But even before the bill has a signature, money to defend it poured in. Lawmakers were told during the debate that an anonymous donor pledged $1 million to defend the ban, and the Legislature was setting up a special account to accept donations.
"We've had people stopping in our office trying to drop off checks to promote the defense of this legislation already," Rounds said.
Many opponents and supporters of abortion rights believe the U.S. Supreme Court is more likely to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion now that conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito are on the bench. Lawmakers said growing support among South Dakotans for abortion restrictions gave the bill momentum.
"I think the stars are aligned," said House Speaker Matthew Michels, a Republican.
The legislation was decried by opponents who said it would particularly impact rape victims and poor women. Currently, a clinic in Sioux Falls is the only place where abortions are provided in South Dakota. The closest alternative is a Planned Parenthood location in Sioux City, Iowa, about 90 miles away.
"It's a sad state of affairs that we have only one choice (for abortion) right now," said Charon Asetoyer of the Native American Women's Health Care Education Resource Center in Lake Andes. "But if you have to go out of state, the cost of making that trip will be prohibitive."
If a rape victim becomes pregnant and bears a child, the rapist could have the same parental rights as the mother, said Krista Heeren-Graber, executive director of the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault.
"The idea the rapist could be in the child's life ... makes the woman very, very fearful. Sometimes they need to have choice," Heeren-Graber said.
About 800 abortions are performed in South Dakota each year. Leslee Unruh, president of the Alpha Center, a Sioux Falls pregnancy counseling agency that tries to steer women away from abortion, said most of them do not stem from rape or even failed contraception, but are simply "conveniences."
Unruh said she believes most South Dakota women want the state to ban abortion, and many who have had abortions "wish someone would have stopped them."
Under the measure, doctors could get up to five years in prison for performing an illegal abortion. The House passed the bill 50-18 on Friday, and the Senate approved it 23-12 earlier this week. If signed, it would become law July 1.
A judge is likely to suspend the abortion ban during the expected legal challenge, which means it would never take effect unless the state gets the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and wins.
Rounds said his staff will review the bill for technical defects. He said he vetoed a similar measure two years ago because it would have wiped out all existing restrictions on abortion while the bill was challenged in court.
"I've indicated I'm pro-life and I do believe abortion is wrong and that we should do everything we can to save lives. If this bill accomplishes that, then I am inclined to sign the bill into law," he said.
Associated Press Writer Doris Haugen contributed to this report.