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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 10:27 GMT
US state takes aim at abortions
Pro- and anti-abortion demonstrations clash in Washington DC
Pro- and anti-abortionists recently marked 33 years of Roe v Wade
A US state legislature has approved a bill to ban most abortions, in a move aimed to force the US Supreme Court to reconsider its key ruling on the issue.

The South Dakota draft law - which needs approval by the governor, known to be against abortion - seeks jail for doctors who perform terminations.

Exceptions will be made if a woman's life is at risk, but not for rape.

Many believe new appointments to the Supreme Court may have tipped the balance in favour of anti-abortionists.

Clearly, this is a devastating day for the women of South Dakota
Kate Looby
Planned Parenthood

Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are considered conservatives.

Justice Alito is thought to be more likely to rule against abortion than his predecessor, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The supporters of the South Dakota bill say they want to trigger a battle over the 1973 Roe-versus-Wade ruling, in which the US Supreme Court established that governments lacked the power to prohibit abortions.


The bill - passed by 23 votes to 12 in the state senate - is considered one of the strictest passed in the US in recent years.

The momentum for a change in the national policy on abortion is going to come in the not-too-distant future
Roger Hunt
South Dakota Republican legislator

It calls for jail sentences of five years for doctors who perform abortions, even in cases where the woman has been raped, her health is threatened or she became pregnant in an incestuous relationship.

"It is the time for the South Dakota Legislature to deal with this issue and protect the lives and rights of unborn children," said the bill's sponsor, Julie Bartling, a Democrat member of the state senate.

But Kate Looby, the director of Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions in the state, told the Washington Post she was "shocked" by the decision.

"Clearly, this is a devastating day for the women of South Dakota," she said. "We fully expected this, yet it's still distressing to know that this legislative body cares so little about women, about families, about women who are victims of rape or incest."

'Abhorrent practice'

BBC Americas analyst Simon Watts says the legislation is unlikely to take effect because of the legal challenges, which are the real point of the bill.

"The momentum for a change in the national policy on abortion is going to come in the not-too-distant future," the Washington Post quoted Roger Hunt, a Republican in the state house of representatives, as saying.

Opponents of abortion are said to be encouraged by the Supreme Court's decision earlier this week to reconsider the legality of so-called partial birth abortions.

A 2003 law outlawing the practice was never enacted because an appeals court said it made no exception to protect a pregnant mother's health.

But President George W Bush describes the practice as "abhorrent" and his administration has appealed to the court to consider urgently whether it should be upheld.

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21 Feb 06 |  Americas
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18 Jan 06 |  Americas
Roe v Wade: Key US abortion ruling
10 Dec 04 |  Americas
US abortion rights in the balance?
29 Nov 05 |  Americas

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