PIERRE, S.D. – An out-of-state abortion rights group has started a petition drive that, if successful, would stall South Dakota's new abortion ban and give voters a say in the matter.
The group, Basic-Abortion-Rights Network of Waukesha, Wis., filed paperwork Tuesday for a ballot petition that would ask voters if the abortion ban should be overturned.
If organizers can get the required 16,728 signatures by June 19, the question would go before voters in November. The law would automatically be placed on hold rather than going into effect July 1 as scheduled.
The new law, signed earlier this month by Gov. Mike Rounds, bans all abortions unless the procedure is necessary to save the woman's life.
Supporters said their goal was to spark a legal battle leading the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Planned Parenthood has promised to challenge it, but hasn't decided whether to do so through the courts or a voter referendum.
The group's South Dakota director, Kate Looby, said she did not know about the petition drive until late Tuesday and hadn't even heard of Basic-Abortion-Rights Network. She thinks the Wisconsin group jumped the gun because people in South Dakota have not decided whether the proposed abortion ban should go to court or to the voters.
Noah Beck Hahn-Walter, who signed the referendum petition for the Basic-Abortion-Rights Network, could not be immediately reached Wednesday.
Looby said it's doubtful an outside group can conduct a successful petition drive in South Dakota. It could be a week or so before Planned Parenthood decides if it will file a legal challenge to the proposed law, she said.
Leslee Unruh, an anti-abortion advocate in Sioux Falls, said it is outrageous that an outside group is trying to stop the abortion ban. The referendum campaign proves that abortion-rights supporters know they would lose in court, she said.
"This is a desperate maneuver to avoid a legal confrontation where the facts and evidence presented will overwhelmingly support enforcement of the South Dakota abortion ban," Unruh said.