SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Two attempts by Republican South Dakota lawmakers to further define the state’s current trigger law banning abortions did not even reach the step of committee hearing discussion during the 2023 legislative session.
Two different bills, one sponsored by Republican Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt and one hoghoused version sponsored by Republican Sen. Erin Tobin, looked at further defining “medical judgment” and requiring a physician to provide information about a medical abortion to the Department of Health.
Both women have publicly called for more discussion regarding South Dakota’s current trigger ban law. The comments come more than eight months after more than 1,000 people protested in an abortion rights march in downtown Sioux Falls that ended with six arrests.
“These issues are oftentimes highly debatable, highly contentious,” Rehfeldt, a nurse who represents District 14 in eastern Sioux Falls, said in a news conference Thursday. “I think the most important part of these issues is making sure there is consensus.”
Rehfeldt said there’s been a lack of consensus from “multiple stakeholders” but conversations have increased around the topic.
Rehfeldt’s bill was tabled before it received a committee hearing, while Tobin’s amendment never made the committee discussion. On Twitter Wednesday afternoon, Tobin blamed lobbyist groups for not allowing discussion on the abortion topic.
“South Dakota Right to Life needs to get on board, or we will become another Kansas, and lose our Pro-life battle in a landslide vote by the people,” Tobin, a nurse from Winner, said.
In August 2022, Kansas voters rejected an anti-abortion Constitutional amendment by a 58-41 margin which kept the state law allowing abortions up to 22 weeks.
Rehfeldt was asked if she believed South Dakota could see a similar vote like Kansas. She said there are two different ends of the abortion spectrum in the state.
“We have a ballot measure that is probably coming in 2024 that legalizes abortion for anybody. That’s one end,” Rehfeldt said. “Then we have our current trigger law that is in many people’s eyes very restrictive.”
Rehfeldt said she believed many South Dakotans could be found somewhere in the middle of those two ends on the issue of abortion.
“I don’t believe a majority of South Dakotans want abortion legalized throughout the entire pregnancy,” Rehfeldt said. “I do believe South Dakota Right to Life will continue to come to the table and that they will come to a compromise with us. I look forward to working with them.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, South Dakota law has banned legal abortions except when medical judgment deems an abortion to be necessary to save the life of the mother.
Crafted and passed in 2005, the trigger ban’s language states anyone “intent thereby to procure an abortion, unless there is appropriate and reasonable medical judgment that performance of an abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant female, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.”
Rehfeldt thanked members of the media for bringing attention to the issue.
“Going forward we have a lot of work to do,” Rehfeldt said. “We will be making sure we have a good product to bring forward next.”
Rehfeldt said she believes there is a desire from lawmakers in both the House and Senate to discuss the topic as well as other stakeholders. She said she plans to bring a bill next year that is good for everybody.
‘All in’ on abortion rights ballot measure
Since November 2022, Dakotans for Health has been gathering signatures for an Constitutional amendment to establish a constitutional right to an abortion and provide a legal framework for the regulation of abortion in South Dakota.
To get a Constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot, the group needs 10% of registered South Dakota voters from the last gubernatorial election which would be 35,016 signatures.
“We’re way out in front trying to restore reproductive rights in South Dakota and we’re already all in on that,” Dakotans for Health co-founder Rick Weiland told KELOLAND News. “We’ve got this great citizen democracy guarantee from the Founding Fathers that allows the citizens of the state to organize and petition their government, change their Constitution and pass public laws.”
Weiland said he was unsure if Dakotans for Health could advocate both for an abortion rights ballot measure and ballot measures to ban the state sales tax on groceries.
If placed on the 2024 ballot and passed by a majority of voters, South Dakota’s abortion laws would change on July 1, 2025.
The South Dakota Legislature will meet January through March 2024 and any abortion laws changed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Kristi Noem would take effect July 1, 2024, unless an emergency clause and a two-thirds majority supported expediting when the law would take effect.
After the Dobbs decision, Noem initially called for special legislative session to focus on South Dakota’s abortion laws but no session was ever convened. Noem has advocated to punish doctors who provide abortions but not mothers.
“There’ll always be, during legislative session, other proposals that may come forward. But right now, I think that where our trigger law stands is what the people of this state support and want to see be in place,” she said in a January interview with CBS.