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South Dakota bans most abortions

In signing law, governor says he expects court challenges

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(CNN) -- South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed a bill Monday that bans nearly all abortions in the state, legislation in direct conflict with the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973.

The new law defines life as originating "at the time of conception."

"In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society," said a statement released by Rounds, a Republican.

"The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them."

Although the law -- intended as a constitutional challenge to Roe v. Wade -- is set to take effect July 1, Rounds said in the statement that he expects legal action will prevent that. He added that a settlement of the issue could take years and might ultimately be decided by the nation's highest court. (FindLaw: Text of billexternal link)

"The reversal of a Supreme Court opinion is possible," Rounds said, pointing to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that reversed the 1896 ruling that states could segregate public facilities by race if equal facilities were offered.

The bill "will give the United States Supreme Court a similar opportunity to reconsider an earlier opinion."

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as its chapter that covers Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, has said it plans to fight the legislation in court.

The national group said 10 states are considering similar bills.

"These abortion bans, and the politicians supporting them, are far outside the mainstream of America," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a written statement.

"Planned Parenthood will fight these attacks in court, in the state houses, and at the ballot boxes, to ensure that women, with their doctors and families, continue to be able to make personal health care decisions without government interference."

The bill signed by Rounds allows doctors to perform abortions only to save the lives of pregnant women, but even then encourages them to exercise "reasonable medical efforts" to both save mothers and continue pregnancies.

Anyone who performs an abortion under any other circumstance -- even in a case of rape or incest -- can be charged with a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The mother cannot be charged.

In his statement, however, Rounds pointed out that the bill does not prohibit doctors from prescribing contraceptive drugs before a pregnancy is determined, such as in a rape or incest case.

State lawmakers had rejected proposed amendments that would have made exceptions for rape or incest.

"We must help each mother to see the value of the gift that is a child, and nurture the mother for her own sake and for the sake of her child," Rounds said in the statement.

'Completely contradictory' to Roe

The passage of the bill comes at a time many abortion rights opponents feel is right for a direct challenge of Roe v. Wade, coming on the heels of two Bush appointees -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito -- to the high court. (Full story)

"This is potentially an earthquake, because there is no doubt that this law conflicts with Roe v. Wade," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said earlier. "It is completely contradictory to what the current law on abortion is."

The Supreme Court has not accepted a direct challenge to abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision.

Most appeals the court has heard since then have dealt with more limited legal questions, such as government funding of the procedure, waiting periods, parental and spousal notification, and abortions late in pregnancy.

In January, the justices issued a ruling on parental notification but sidestepped the sort of definitive ruling that many activists on both sides of the issue had hoped for.

In a unanimous but narrow opinion written by now-retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the high court concluded that a federal appeals panel went too far by blocking enforcement of a New Hampshire law requiring minors to notify their parents before receiving an abortion.

The case was thrown back for reconsideration, essentially delaying a final word on the matter.

The ruling from the high court thus bypassed the larger question of whether such laws are an unconstitutional "burden" on a woman's access to the procedure.

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