Signatures Handed In to Repeal Abortion Ban

Times Staff Writer

Abortion rights advocates on Tuesday submitted more than 37,000 signatures supporting a ballot initiative to overturn South Dakota’s ban on abortions.

If the secretary of state verifies the signatures, which number more than twice the amount needed to place a measure on the ballot, South Dakota residents will decide in November whether to keep the strictest ban in the nation.

The measure, which outlaws all abortions -- even in cases of rape or incest -- unless the mother’s life is at stake, is set to take effect July 1. Doctors who perform an abortion could be fined $5,000 and imprisoned for five years.


The law, signed by Republican Gov. Michael Rounds in March, was intended to trigger a legal challenge that would end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. President Bush’s two appointees to the court are thought by some abortion foes to be ready to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established the right to an abortion.

But abortion rights supporters pursued a ballot initiative, arguing that voters, even in a conservative state like South Dakota, were not ready to completely outlaw abortion.

They said that Tuesday’s submission of the signatures was a sign that they were correct.

“It proved to be extremely easy for us to gather these petitions,” said Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and North and South Dakota, part of the coalition backing the ballot initiative. “It underscores that the governor, the Legislature and the anti-choice movement have over-reached.”

Foes of the initiative accused abortion rights forces of misrepresenting their campaign in order to gather signatures, and dismissed Tuesday’s total as insignificant.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” said Leslee Unruh, president of the South Dakota-based Abstinence Clearinghouse and an antiabortion advocate who was key in pushing the ban. “Abortion’s going to be outlawed in the state of South Dakota, by the people of South Dakota.”

Stoesz said that volunteer signature gatherers had not misrepresented the ballot initiative.

All sides expect a bruising battle in South Dakota. National groups on both sides of the debate are expected to pour money into the state.

“It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” Unruh said.