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Group seeks statewide vote to make abortion legal again in South Dakota

Marissa Brunkhorst
Residents of Vermillion gather outside of the Clay County Courthouse to protest the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.

A healthcare advocacy organization wants South Dakota voters to decide on the right to legal abortion with a potential constitutional ballot measure. If placed on the ballot and passed, the proposal from Dakotans for Health would reverse the state’s near total ban on abortion.

The proposed language says the state may regulate or prohibit abortion after the second trimester, except when necessary to preserve the life or physical or emotional health of the pregnant woman.

The Legislative Research Council received the ballot question language on June 17, which was about a month after the draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked.

Rick Weiland with Dakotans For Health says majority opinion should rule on the issue.

“The decision by the court, as you well know, was ‘let’s put it back to the states and let the voters decide.’ So that’s what we’re doing,” Weiland said. “We’re going to give the voters a choice, not a Legislature that’s heavily tilted.”

The potential constitutional amendment language is now before the Attorney General’s office, which will give the proposed ballot question a summary. The group cannot start circulating petitions until after the 2022 election.

The state’s abortion law bans abortions except to save the life of the mother. It does not allow exceptions in cases of rape or incest. The South Dakota law, which was passed in 2005, mirrored a similar abortion ban lawmakers passed one year later.

South Dakota voters rejected that law and another abortion ban in 2008.

The Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Kristi Noem say they plan to call a special session to take up more abortion-related legislation. No specific policies nor dates have been announced.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.