A Bitter War's Latest Front
South Dakota voters will pass judgment on the nation's toughest abortion law
Fine print. South Dakota is one of only three states-Mississippi and North Dakota are the others-with a single clinic offering abortion services. Both sides in the debate converged on Jackson, Miss., this past summer as antiabortion protesters tried unsuccessfully to close that state's only provider. South Dakota already has few abortions-814 in 2004-and some of the nation's most restrictive laws. Those include a 24-hour abortion waiting period, a parental consent requirement for minors, and a law that allows pharmacies to refuse to provide contraception.
Though an early poll showed that voters in this conservative, antiabortion state thought the new law too severe, the numbers have tightened, and both sides say it will be a fight to the finish. The abortion question is one of 11 statewide ballot measures, but it's the one garnering the most attention. Final campaign finance numbers won't be filed until the end of October, but preliminary reports indicated that the move to overturn the abortion ban had received hefty support from Planned Parenthood and lots of individual donations from liberal bastions like New York and California. The campaign supporting the ban received most of its individual donations from South Dakota residents.
Privacy? No matter what happens next week, the South Dakota battle has renewed the national conversation on abortion, and there is much speculation about how the new Supreme Court members, Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, might vote if the case makes its way to the high court. Even with the two new conservative justices, however, the court, by a 5-to-4 margin, is expected to continue to support the 33-year-old Roe v. Wade privacy right that assumes abortion is an issue to be decided by a woman and her doctor. But that's not the only abortion question for the justices: The day after the election, the court will hear two cases dealing with "partial-birth" abortion.
Back in South Dakota, a recent candidates' forum at St. Mary Catholic School in Dell Rapids, just north of Sioux Falls, opened with a communal recitation of the Lord's Prayer. But the forum quickly turned to issues-rural economic development, methamphetamine and alcohol abuse among the young, state-sponsored video gambling, and a proposed cigarette tax. The ballot voters will mark here next week is chock-full of weighty questions-on same-sex marriage, for instance, and medical marijuana. But hanging over the evening was the specter of the abortion ban, the divisions it has created in the state, and the prospect of years of expensive legal battles, no matter who wins. "This is a tough deal for South Dakota," says Arnie Hauge, a GOP candidate for the statehouse who supports the ban. "It's like a tug of war, and this is where you grab hold of the end of the rope and hang on."