Anti-Abortion Group Files Lawsuit to Stop Ballot Measure After Posing as Gov. Officials Didn’t Stop Ballot Measure

It's been a month since South Dakota's Republican AG approved an abortion ballot measure. Now, in a new lawsuit, the Life Defense Fund claims without evidence that those abortion rights advocates committed fraud.

Anti-Abortion Group Files Lawsuit to Stop Ballot Measure After Posing as Gov. Officials Didn’t Stop Ballot Measure

In May, South Dakota’s Republican attorney general validated an abortion rights measure, Amendment G, after abortion rights group Dakotans for Health successfully submitted well over the required number of signatures to get on the November ballot. Like clockwork, anti-abortion activists have since been fighting tooth-and-nail to stop Amendment G: On Monday, the Associated Press reported that the anti-abortion group Life Defense Fund filed a lawsuit asking for the measure to be disqualified, baselessly claiming that Dakotans for Health committed fraud and submitted invalid signatures. If “Life Defense Fund” sounds familiar, it’s the same group that was linked with an anti-abortion initiative to have anti-abortion activists pose as government officials and call voters to try and get them to revoke their signatures.

South Dakota currently maintains a total abortion ban and threatens doctors in violation with two years in prison. Amendment G would ensure abortion is legal under all circumstances in the first trimester of pregnancy and allow some regulation by the state after that point.

Back in May, Dakotans for Health submitted 55,000 signatures—almost double the 35,000 required to get on the ballot. Secretary of State Monae Johnson’s office deemed about 85% of the submitted signatures valid. Nonetheless, Life Defense Fund—which was formed specifically to challenge Amendment G— is claiming without evidence that Dakotans for Health illegally misled voters about what they were signing. The group doesn’t just want to invalidate Amendment G, they also want to ban Dakotans for Health from circulating petitions or working on ballot initiatives for four years. “The public should scrutinize Dakotan for Health’s comments and carefully consider its credibility,” Life Defense Fund attorney Sara Frankenstein told the AP. “In the end, the Court will determine whether such unlawful conduct may result in the measure being included on the ballot.” It makes me feel a bit crazy that they classify voluntarily signing your name to a measure to restore human rights as “unlawful behavior” and not posing as a government official, but, sure!

Just last month, Johnson’s office warned that anti-abortion activists were calling voters who had signed in support of the measure, posing as officials working for the secretary of state and trying to convince these voters to remove their signatures. Voters received these calls from a group called the South Dakota Petition Integrity Commission, which is led by Republican state Rep. Jon Hansen, who happens to be—surprise, surprise—co-chair of the Life Defense Fund. Within days of the start of this effort in May, the South Dakota Searchlight reported that at least 700 voters had already received calls.

So, in other words, a desperate, evidence-free lawsuit to try and stop the ballot measure a month after it was approved is about on par with what we should expect from a group like Life Defense Fund. 

“Eighteen months of bullying South Dakotans, pretending to be from the Secretary of State’s office and asking people to remove their signatures, [Life Defense Fund] could not produce a single valid signature withdrawal petition affidavit,” Dakotans for Health founder Rick Weiland said in a statement shared with Jezebel. He claimed the group “went zero for 723 on the random sample trying to find a signer who was tricked,” adding, “If that does not give the lie to their false claims, and to this lawsuit, I don’t know what will.”

All of this comes as, earlier this month, a new poll showed even stronger support for Amendment G than its 55,000 signatures would suggest. According to the South Dakota News Watch poll, 53% of surveyed voters support the measure, 35% oppose it, and 11% remain, for whatever reason, undecided. This marks a major shift from November when 46% of voters said they supported Amendment G compared with 44% who opposed it.

These poll numbers align with what we’ve seen every time abortion or reproductive rights are put directly on the ballot. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, reproductive rights measures have won in every state where they’ve been voted on. In addition to South Dakota, several states including Florida and Colorado, are set to vote on the issue in November. Anti-abortion activists’ attempts to foil these measures have included lying that the measures would legalize feticide, lying that abortion rights organizers are trying to steal voters’ private data, and even stalking, harassing, and doxxing abortion rights organizers. “[Anti-abortion activists] have thrown everything they could, and now the kitchen sink, to stop the voters from weighing in this November,” Weiland concluded. “We are confident that the people of South Dakota are going to be able to make this decision.”

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