November Ballots Include Abortion Issues

In 2006, South Dakotans introduced a petition drive to place an abortion ban before the voters.
In 2006, South Dakotans introduced a petition drive to place an abortion ban before the voters. (By Dirk Lammers -- Associated Press)
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By Holly Watt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 30, 2008

A ballot initiative on abortion in South Dakota this November could lead to a series of court challenges and ultimately to the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, antiabortion activists say.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, anchored himself more strongly in the antiabortion camp with his selection of the passionately antiabortion governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate.

Two other referendums on abortion will be before voters in Colorado and California. The Colorado ballot, in particular, is seen as having potential impact on the presidential vote there. In California, a parental notification requirement for minors seeking an abortion will be on the November ballot.

South Dakota is, once again, the laboratory for antiabortion and abortion rights activists, with its 800,000 voters facing the most sweeping legislation. In 2006, an outright ban got on the statute books, but voters quickly reversed the legislation in November that year, 56 percent to 44 percent.

The proposals were redrafted, but the measure would essentially ban abortion, except in the case of rape, incest or threat to the woman's health.

Leslee Unruh, the executive director of, said: "This is the law that would make it at the Supreme Court. If Planned Parenthood assaults this law in South Dakota, we are ready. There is money being raised for the legal costs to fight this all the way."

In South Dakota, where Democrats were outvoted by the Republicans by 21 percentage points in the last presidential election, abortion rights activists are emphasizing the bipartisan nature of their fight. "One of our co-chairs is a Republican, and the other is Democrat," said Chris Cassidy from the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families. "If we run it on party lines, it's over."

A memo drafted last year by Harold J. Cassidy & Associates, lawyers who have worked on antiabortion lawsuits, says of the South Dakota referendum that "it is reasonable to expect it to win on the ballot," adding: "The court challenges by Planned Parenthood will likely begin sometime that November and would reach the United States Supreme Court sometime in 2011 or 2012."

The memo also looks at the ideal time frame for such legislation to reach the highest court. "The U.S. Supreme Court will most likely have the best make-up (for an Abortion Bill) when the case reaches the Supreme Court in 2011 or 2012, than any Court is likely to have in the next ten or fifteen years," the memo says.

Antiabortion forces in South Dakota have been trying for years to build a winnable challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Among the ballot measures, however, the proposal in Colorado could have the biggest political impact, because the state has been seesawing between Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and McCain (Ariz.). The most recent polls showed McCain with a slight edge.

Voters there will be asked whether to define the term "person" as "any human being from the moment of fertilization."

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