Abortion rights advocates optimistic about post-midterm petition campaign

Voters in three states — California, Vermont and Michigan — added abortion rights to their state constitutions on Election Day. In two traditionally red states – Montana and Kentucky – voters rejected further restrictions on reproductive care.

This result, which supports abortion rights, has supporters of an election in South Dakota feeling optimistic.

On the first day that petitions for the 2024 election were being distributed, Ann Randall held a package containing blank petition forms at a downtown Sioux Falls restaurant.

Randall and dozens of others want to add abortion rights to the South Dakota constitution.

“I won’t have children my age but I have daughters and granddaughters and friends and I think they all deserve the right to make their decisions without our legislature, our governor, telling them what to do.” said Randall.

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The petition that Randall and others are circulating calling for a constitutional change would grant the same rights at the state level that the 1973 US Supreme Court ruling Roe V. Wade granted nationwide until earlier this year.

South Dakota’s ballot proposal would ban abortion restrictions during the first trimester and allow some second-trimester regulations.

“Women – and men – families who cannot afford another child or [cases of] Rape and incest… It’s just not right that they can’t make their own choices,” Randall added.

When the US Supreme Court overthrew Roe V. Wade in June, he handed abortion policy back to the states.

This sparked South Dakota’s near-total abortion ban, which was passed by the legislature in 2005.

Current state law prohibits all abortion unless a mother’s life is threatened. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Randall says the law is devastating for many South Dakotans.

dr Amy Kelley, a Sioux Falls OBGYN, says the current law isn’t clear.

“There’s a lot of complexity and gray areas in obstetrics,” Kelley said. “That makes it hard to know if what we’re doing every day is okay or not.”

Kelley said the circumstances surrounding the abortion involve medical, not legal, issues. She said existing language providing for an exception to save the mother’s life is vague.

“Where’s the point where I say, ‘Okay, that’s bad enough?'” Kelley said. “It’s a judgment call and it’s also the patient’s call. Some patients are willing to risk their lives during pregnancy. And that’s her choice, but that’s kind of the point. It should be her choice because it is her life that is at stake.”

Kelley supports the inclusion of abortion rights in the state constitution. An abortion rights group called Dakotans for Health supports the election proposal.

An anti-abortion group is already organizing against the petition campaign. Dale Bartscher is the President of South Dakota Right To Life.

“We have seen these requirements first hand. Many of them lie. you deceive. They are not telling the public the truth about the measure they are circulating,” Bartscher said. “This is where the people of South Dakota can have our point of view.”

Bartscher said the change would legalize late-breaking abortions. The change allows lawmakers to ban third-trimester abortions.

This isn’t the first time South Dakota Right To Life has been working on voting issues related to abortion. State residents voted twice on abortion restrictions, in 2006 and 2008, and rejected both.

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South Dakota Right To Life executive director Dale Bartscher stands up for Republican Rep. Rebecca Reimer on the third floor of the Capitol

Bartscher said the new ballot initiative, if passed, would overturn 50 years of abortion policies put in place by his group and the state legislature.

“We are calling on our volunteers to help educate the public about how truly radical and unconventional this change is,” Bartscher added.

In South Dakota, the state government’s conservative control supports its current anti-abortion position.

Emily Wanless, a political science professor at Augustana University, said the wording of the abortion poll question was very complex.

“If you look at the extreme nature that comes with abortion restrictions, there’s a subset of people who are uncomfortable with being so absolute,” Wanless said.

She points to the results of the recent midterm elections, which show voters in other conservative states are unwilling to support restrictions.

“Conservative ideology,” Wanless added, “corresponds largely to the Republican Party — when it comes to freedom, it’s really hard to resist taking people’s rights.”

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