New York Times, February 25, 2006

South Dakota's Governor Says He Favors Abortion Ban Bill

Gov. Mike Rounds said yesterday that he was inclined to sign a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in South Dakota, the broadest measure to outlaw abortion anywhere in the country.

"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," Governor Rounds, a Republican, said in a news conference from the Capitol in Pierre, where the measure that would make performing an abortion a felony passed the state House and Senate this week. "If this bill accomplishes that, then I am inclined to sign the bill into law."

Mr. Rounds said he believed that a more gradual approach, with measures like parental and spousal notification laws and waiting periods, would probably be more successful at preventing abortions. But he said that he also understood that there were others in the "pro-life camp" who believe that a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, was the wisest strategy.

"Many people will never believe that this will not work unless it is tried," he said.

If the governor signs the bill in the coming 15 days, it will be scheduled to take effect on July 1. But leaders at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which operates the only abortion clinic in the state, serving about 800 women a year, have pledged to file suit immediately. They said they would seek an injunction to block the law from coming into effect until the court battle, which could last years, is over.

Some opponents of abortion rights praised the governor and pointed to South Dakota as a pioneer in a crucial battle; it is the first state in at least 14 years to pass such a blanket ban. Abortion rights advocates said they were disappointed though not surprised by Mr. Rounds's indication of support for the measure, which allows exceptions only for cases in which a pregnant woman's life is in jeopardy.

"Part of the antichoice movement wanted this always to be below the radar screen, to basically eviscerate and piece by piece erode the protections of Roe," said Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America. "Now you have a political climate where people feel emboldened."

Two years ago, the South Dakota House and Senate passed a similar abortion prohibition. Mr. Rounds issued a "style-and-form" veto, sending that bill back to the Legislature for what he considered a technical flaw. The language of the ban, he said, could have led a court to block all other state restrictions on abortion while South Dakota fought the larger issue in court. When the governor sent a rewritten bill back in 2004, though, the Senate narrowly rejected it.

This time, Mr. Rounds said he had been told by the bill's sponsors that no such flaw existed. During his news conference, he said that he and his aides must now study the wording of the bill and be certain of that, before he made a final decision.