The Supreme Court of the United States’ (SCOTUS) 5-4 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — leading to the overturning of Roe v. Wade — had immediate impacts in South Dakota Friday.
From jubilation among some politicians to fear among advocacy groups, reactions were mixed in the state following the long-awaited decision.
Roger Baron, professor emeritus with the University of South Dakota School of Law, left little doubt that Friday’s Supreme Court decision was historic.
“It’s not just a major decision — it’s a major, major, major decision that’s going to impact a lot of things,” he told the Press & Dakotan Friday. “It’s kind of scary. We stand on the precipice of what’s going to happen next. … People are just reeling from it, if you will.”
He was unable to think of a decision quite like it within his lifetime, but said one thing was very striking about Friday’s decision.
“It’s the taking away of principles that have been established that make it so significant,” he said. “It wasn’t that long ago we had the big decision that declared same-sex marriage as being a fundamental right and people were entitled to it. That was a major decision, but that created more opportunities for people as opposed to taking away rights that have been recognized. Fundamentally, this decision today says that the court was in err by saying the right to an abortion was constitutionally protected. That’s just a little bit different.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Kristi Noem greeted Friday’s decision with enthusiasm.
“Every abortion always had two victims: the unborn child and the mother. Today’s decision will save unborn lives in South Dakota, but there is more work to do,” she said in a press release. “We must do what we can to help mothers in crisis know that there are options and resources available for them. Together, we will ensure that abortion is not only illegal in South Dakota — it is unthinkable.”
South Dakota has a trigger law in place to ban abortions as soon as Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Noem also announced the creation of lfe.sd.gov, a website that “helps mothers and their babies before birth and after by providing resources for pregnancy, new parents, financial assistance, and adoption.”
The governor also announced that a special session of the Legislature would be called and set for a date to be determined.
“With the end of Roe, South Dakota can again work to have enforceable laws to protect our children,” Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck said in the press release. “A special session is necessary because we could not have known this winter in session that we would have this opportunity and new responsibility to protect lives presented by the Supreme Court’s decision. Also, there will be more work to do on the many challenges a post-Roe world presents in regular session next January.”
No details of what the Legislature will discuss were available.
The Press & Dakotan reached out to the entire District 18 delegation for comment on the SCOTUS decision and the impending special session but received no reply by press time.
Members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation were also pleased with Friday’s decision.
“This decision to overturn Roe is long overdue, and it’s a historic day in the pro-life movement,” said Sen. John Thune. “Our country is dedicated to the defense of human rights, and I hope that we can further live up to that promise with the question of abortion now rightfully returned to the states, the democratic process, and to elected officials who can be held accountable to the American people for their decisions.”
“I’ve never believed the Roe v. Wade decision — which was ultimately a personal privacy case — was a justification to take a human life,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson. “The unborn deserve protection.”
However, not everyone in South Dakota viewed the decision as a victory.
A statement from the South Dakota Democratic Party took aim at previous statements by Gov. Noem.
“Last year, Kristi Noem told the Argus Leader she opposes abortion with no exceptions, including cases of rape and incest: ‘Noem told the Argus Leader this week that she is an absolutist on [abortion], not even compromising in the event of rape or incest,’” The statement read. “Kristi Noem’s extremist views are out-of-line with most South Dakotans and put partisan goals above common sense. While Kristi Noem claims to be a champion for freedom, in reality, she’s the number one advocate for controlling the lives of South Dakotans.”
A statement from the ACLU of South Dakota called the ruling “devastating.”
“Anti-abortion politicians have put South Dakota on the wrong side of history for too long, and the ACLU is determined not to let them off the hook,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota campaigns director. “The ACLU of South Dakota is mobilizing supporters to make sure that these anti-abortion politicians feel the consequences of their brazen disregard for our rights. Politicians who do not believe in protecting the civil rights and liberties of their constituents have no business in governors’ mansions, in state attorneys general’s offices or in state legislatures.”
Effects and the Future
Baron said, in the near term, the decision won’t change much in South Dakota or the states where abortion remains legal.
“Abortions are still going to be available in the states that provide them,” he said. “To some degree, for example, in South Dakota, it’s been very difficult for folks to get an abortion. It hasn’t been freely available, certainly, with one provider in Sioux Falls. It’s not unusual that folks would go elsewhere to get them. That’s still going to be available.
However, he said that decisions may need to be made sooner.
“The near-term impact is not an elimination of abortion; it’s just saying it’s going to be less available,” he said. “In the process of saying that, it’s also saying if a person wants to have an abortion, I think that person needs to make that decision maybe earlier in time and take premeditated steps in order to accomplish that. I think it’s going to eliminate the last-minute abortions.”
Baron said that it could mean some bigger changes in the future, though.
“I saw Nancy Pelosi had made a statement that Republicans are already trying to orchestrate a federal law to outlaw abortion everywhere,” he said. “That’s on the horizon. That’s not going to happen in the near future because the Democrats control the Senate and the House. If we come to a point in time where the Democrats are no longer in control of the Senate and the House and there’s a president there that will sign that legislation, you have that possibility that it could be completely outlawed.”
The impact may not be limited to abortion rights. Skarin said many other groups could be affected as well.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is deeply painful to all of us who believe that the right to control our own bodies and to make such deeply personal decisions is ours, not the government’s,” she said. “Make no mistake: Politicians won’t stop here. The same anti-abortion extremists seeking to control the bodies of pregnant people are coming for our right to access birth control and gender-affirming care, marry who we love, and vote.”
Baron said that previous decisions concerning contraception and the LGBTQIA+ community may not be immediately on the table but could realistically be before the court again at some point.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen in the near future, but now it’s on the horizon,” he said.
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