Amid the pandemic, annual ‘Hour of Reflection’ will continue in-person at South Dakota Capitol

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — COVID-19 has led national organizers to change their March for Life in Washington, D.C., to a virtual event. That won’t be the case in South Dakota, however.

The Hour of Reflection on Sunday, January 31, will remain an in-person gathering inside the state Capitol rotunda in Pierre, said Dale Bartscher, executive director for South Dakota Right To Life.

The event marks the January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide. South Dakota Right to Life represents people opposed to abortion rights.

“We will be COVID-19 sensitive,” Bartscher wrote in an email reply to questions Monday from KELOLAND News. “The wearing of masks will be ‘optional’, hand sanitizers will be available for those in attendance, social distancing will be encouraged.”

Asked whether people will be seated side by side, as in the past, or socially-distanced six feet apart, Bartscher said, “We are limiting ourselves to 150 chairs and will spread them out as much as possible.”

A flyer for the program, now in its 48th year, shows the Walk for Life starting at noon CT, followed by the Hour of Reflection at 2 p.m. State Treasurer Josh Haeder is the keynote speaker. Last year U.S. Senator Mike Rounds spoke.

The Legislature has become more opposed to abortion through the decades since the Roe decision, approving many restrictions within federal limits. South Dakota candidates for legislative and statewide office increasingly have found difficulty winning election unless they publicly pledge to support abortion restrictions.

Abortions reported to the South Dakota Department of Health have fallen in the past decade, from 848 in 2008, to 382 in 2018 and 414 in 2019. Abortions performed on girls younger than 18 dropped farther during the same period, from 56 in 2008, to 10 in 2018 and 14 in 2019.

This year Governor Kristi Noem has called for a state law prohibiting abortions of “preborn” children diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

South Dakota voters during the 2000s however twice rejected attempts led by then-Representative Roger Hunt of Brandon to prohibit most abortions.

In 2006 voters threw out a state ban sponsored by Hunt and then-Senator Julie Bartling of Burke and signed by then-Governor Rounds 185,945 to 148,648.

In 2008, voters turned down Initiated Measure 11 seeking similar restrictions 206,535 to 167,560. Hunt helped fund the campaign through the Promising Future political committee. He died November 9, 2018.

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