Is Roe v. Wade Doomed?

ByABC News

March 3, 2006 — -- South Dakota is not alone. Several other states are turning their heads toward changing abortion laws. Their ultimate goal? To challenge Roe v. Wade all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"What we are seeing is that these states are emboldened by the climate in this country," said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan. "They see a pro-life president, a pro-life Congress and Senate, and a president who nominated two members to the Supreme Court who he said would be in the mold of [Justices] Scalia and Thomas."

In addition to South Dakota's measure, which is awaiting the governor's signature, legislation is being introduced and/or drawn up in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The laws in effect are a call to the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing the right to an abortion.

It's the newest and, some say, the biggest fight against abortion rights in this country since the landmark decision.

"No," Keenan said. "The public is not there. The majority of Americans are pro-choice, and this has even caused a split in the anti-choice movement. One half is supporting this legislation while the other half is saying strategically this would be a mistake."

The South Dakota vote comes at a time when some activists believe the high court may be more willing than ever to abandon Roe v. Wade. Conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito are on the bench, and85-year-old John Paul Stevens may be close to retiring.

Anti-abortion activist Leslee Unruh of Sioux Falls, S.D., told The Associated Press that support for the proposal in South Dakota began long before Roberts and Alito were nominated. She said the issue took on urgency in recent months because term limits will soon force some key lawmakers from office.

"I know the inner workings of the Legislature and the personalities, and I know it had to be this year," said Unruh,founder of a pregnancy counseling center and an organization devoted to teaching abstinence to teenagers. "There's a window of time, and this is it."

The South Dakota abortion-ban legislation sailed through the House and Senate. Republican Gov. Mike Rounds has said he is inclined to sign the measure, which would make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion unless necessary to save the woman's life. The bill would make no exception in cases of rape or incest.

The Mississippi House voted today to ban most abortions in the state, with exceptions for pregnancies that endanger a woman's life or those caused by rape or incest.

The bill passed, 94-25, and moves to the Senate, where it has the support of a key chairman. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour also has said he will sign the bill into law.

Lawmakers said that Mississippi had a 1940s law similar to what's being proposed now, but that it was invalidated by Roe v. Wade.

"How many millions of souls are crying out that's been killed because of this hideous practice called abortion?" Rep. Eric Robinson, R-Quitman, asked during the House debate, according to the AP.

Barbour told the AP that he likely would sign a bill that would allow abortions only if a pregnant woman's life were in danger, if that's what lawmakers sent him.

"But I would certainly rather it come to my desk with an exception for rape and incest," Barbour told the AP. "I think that's consistent with the opinion of the vast majority of Mississippians and Americans."

No lawmakers stood to argue in favor of abortion rights, although several said abortions should be allowed if a woman was impregnated against her will.

A Missouri bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jason Crowell, would make it a felony charge for anyone who performs an abortion, carrying a sentence of five years to 15 years in prison.

"Across the country, state politicians are creating a gauntlet of anti-choice laws and regulations to make it more difficult for women to get the best and safest reproductive health-care services," Eve Gartner, senior staff attorney for Planned Parenthood, said in a statement following the South Dakota ban. "South Dakota's ban is the most sweeping abortion ban passed by any state in more than a decade. Planned Parenthood will go to court to ensure women, with their doctors and families, continue to be able to make personal health-care decisions -- not politicians."

Nationwide, abortion opponents are split over whether it's time to pull out all the stops on banning abortion or time to continue seeking to restrict the procedure with less ambitious bills, such as measures to require parental consent or regulate clinics.

"The pro-life community is divided on what the best strategy is," said Sam Lee, of the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Missouri.'s Rose Palazzolo contributed to this report.

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