South Dakota Submits Double the Signatures It Needs for an Abortion Rights Ballot Measure

Abortion has been totally banned in the state since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022.

South Dakota Submits Double the Signatures It Needs for an Abortion Rights Ballot Measure

On Wednesday, reproductive rights organizers in South Dakota submitted 55,000 signatures in support of an abortion rights measure in an effort to get it on the ballot in November. That’s almost double the 35,000 signatures required to qualify for the ballot, and ahead of the state’s May 7 deadline.

Since 2022, when the death of Roe v. Wade made way for a trigger law to allow a total abortion ban to take effect, South Dakota remains one of the strictest bans in the country. The state only allows exceptions to save the pregnant person’s life, without exceptions for other medical emergencies, fatal fetal anomalies, or rape. Abortion providers in violation are threatened with up to two years in prison.

Dakotans for Health, the group leading the ballot effort, wants abortion to be legal under all circumstances in the first trimester of pregnancy. Their proposal would allow “regulation” by the state in the second and third trimesters, barring medical emergencies and to preserve the pregnant person’s health. Dakotans for Health co-founder Rick Weiland told NBC the measure is meant to “restore women’s personal freedom and overturn South Dakota’s blanket abortion ban” by adding a right to abortion to the state Constitution. “The Freedom Amendment is about empowering individuals to make deeply personal decisions about their own bodies and futures,” Weiland said.

In other words, this proposed ballot measure actually opens the door for more restrictions, compared to the proposed ballot measures in other states, like Ohio or Florida, which would add a right to abortion through “fetal viability” to the state Constitution. As NBC notes, South Dakota voted for Trump by 26 points in 2020, so the proposal’s more conservative approach likely has something to do with that.

In February, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signed a bill that would require abortion providers to watch a fun little educational video (derogatory) if they were confused over when they legally could or not provide emergency abortion. The video, which hasn’t yet been made, will allegedly differentiate abortions for ectopic pregnancies or to complete miscarriages from other abortions, which doesn’t make sense; it will also list which conditions threaten a pregnant person’s life, though it’s unclear whether a condition has to threaten imminent death or just substantially endanger someone’s health in order to qualify.

The bill was predictably panned by doctors because exceptions—especially vague exceptions—simply don’t work, particularly when the stakes are going to prison. “There’s no way that you can create a video that talks about any type of inclusive list of conditions where you can and can’t provide care,” one OB-GYB told NPR earlier this year. “There’s not a line in the sand where someone goes from being totally fine to acutely dying.” It’s this dilemma that Dakotans for Health is trying to address with its abortion rights ballot measure.

The group was able to collect 50,000 signatures by December, months before the submission deadline. Currently, about a dozen other states including Florida, Arizona, and Missouri are set to either vote on abortion in November or are trying to finalize getting it on the ballot. Thus far, in every state that’s voted directly on abortion since 2022, abortion rights have won—but Republican officials and anti-abortion groups have been throwing the kitchen sink to try to stop them.

And this cycle, they’ve only gotten more aggressive. In Arizona, anti-abortion groups have bragged about strategically stalking, harassing, and surveilling reproductive rights organizers as they collected voter signatures. In Missouri, anti-abortion groups have sent texts to voters lying that signature collectors are trying to steal their personal data. And across the board, anti-abortion politicians are lying that ballot measures would create a right to abortion “until birth,” which is patently not true.

That’s all to say, meeting the signature requirement is an important first step in South Dakota—but there are inevitably still plenty of challenges leading up to November.

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