Planned Parenthood Hopes for Ballot Victory, Plans Legal Challenge

Nathan Burchfiel | Staff Writer | Friday, June 23, 2006

Planned Parenthood Hopes for Ballot Victory, Plans Legal Challenge

( - The president of the South Dakota branch of Planned Parenthood on Thursday promised that a referendum on the state's controversial abortion ban in November would not be the last attempt to overturn it.

The state legislature in February passed one of the most restrictive abortion bans since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. The South Dakota law, when it goes into effect, will ban all abortions unless the mother's life is at risk.

Planned Parenthood, the only abortion provider in the state, has gathered petition signatures to have the ban placed on the ballot in November to give Dakotans a chance to overturn it. But Sarah Stoesz, the president of Planned Parenthood's South Dakota branch, said even if voters approve the ban, the group will take it to court.

At a panel discussion with abortion rights supporters in Washington, D.C., Stoesz said the pro-life movement passed the bill because "they understood that Planned Parenthood would challenge it in court and to create a vehicle to overturn Roe vs. Wade."

"We chose this time, however, not to take the bait of the American Life League and the anti-reproductive rights movement," Stoesz said, "and instead to bring the matter of the abortion ban in South Dakota to the people of the state of South Dakota." If that fails, she added, a legal challenge will ensue.

Jim Sedlak, vice president of the American Life League, said Stoesz's characterization of the law's motive is inaccurate. "We know the legislators and the people in South Dakota who put this law forward," he told Cybercast News Service. "They put it forward to save lives."

"They've been trying for years," Sedlak said of pro-life activists in South Dakota. "This is the year they got it through. Their whole motivation is to save the lives of babies and if it does go forward to the Supreme Court that will just be a plus to them."

Stoesz said she is confident that voters will overturn the ban, but that if they approve it, Planned Parenthood will resort to legal challenges of the law "because we are committed to keeping our clinic open and committed to performing abortion care for women in South Dakota."

Planned Parenthood operates two clinics in South Dakota, only one of which performs abortions. The group flies doctors in from neighboring states to perform the abortions because no doctors in the state are willing to perform them, according to Stoesz.

Sedlak said he thinks Planned Parenthood has "absolutely zero" chance of convincing voters to overturn the ban, pointing to South Dakota primary results in June. "Every legislator who supported the abortion ban and was challenged won their primary election," he said, "and four legislators who were opposed to the abortion ban lost their primary elections."

He called the primaries "a great indication of the fact that South Dakota people are pro-life and they are really excited about this ban."

"We could lose, that's true," Stoesz said during the discussion. But, she added, "We must take this as an opportunity to build our movement."

Sedlak said he thinks the referendum attempt signals "desperation time for Planned Parenthood." He said pro-abortion groups are "seeing that state after state, across the country, is now emboldened by South Dakota's move to start passing these laws. It's the beginning of the end, and Planned Parenthood knows it."

See Earlier Story:
Planned Parenthood Vows to Help Elect 'Progressive Voices' (June 14, 2006)

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