PIERRE, S.D. - Gov. Mike Rounds signed legislation Monday that would ban most abortions in South Dakota, a law he acknowledged would be tied up in court for years while the state challenges the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
The bill would make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion unless the procedure was necessary to save the woman's life. It would make no exception for cases of rape or incest.
Planned Parenthood, which operates the state's only abortion clinic, in Sioux Falls, immediately pledged to challenge the measure. The challenge could either be in court or by petition signatures to refer the measure to a statewide ballot in which voters would be asked to repeal the abortion ban.
"We fully intend to challenge this law," said Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood. "It's just a question of how."
The Legislature passed the bill last month after supporters argued that the recent appointment of conservative justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito have made the U.S. Supreme Court more likely to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Rounds said he believes it would be better to chip away at abortion one step at a time rather than directly confront Roe v. Wade. But he said many abortion opponents want the direct challenge.
"Personally I think this court will be more interested in looking at different aspects of Roe v. Wade rather than the direct frontal assault, but we'll never know unless someone tries," Rounds said.
Rounds said he agrees with legislative sponsors that the test of a civilization is how it treats its most vulnerable and helpless people, and that unborn children are the most vulnerable and helpless.
Under the new law, doctors could get up to five years in prison for performing an illegal abortion.
Abortion opponents already are offering money to help the state pay legal bills for the anticipated court challenge, Rounds has said. Lawmakers said an anonymous donor has pledged $1 million to defend the ban, and the Legislature set up a special account to accept donations for legal fees.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said her organization will urge people across the nation to fight for their reproductive freedom. Some other states are considering similar bans on abortion, and the South Dakota legislation will have an impact in other states, she said.
"We see that this is about more than just South Dakota. It's about the country," Keenan said. "The bottom line in all of it is elections matter."
Rounds noted that the measure was written to make sure existing restrictions would still be enforced during the legal battle. Current state law sets increasingly stringent restrictions on abortions as pregnancy progresses; after the 24th week, the procedure is allowed only to protect the woman's health and safety.