Supporters of 2024 abortion ballot amendment host signature drive kick-off in Sioux Falls
Saturday, Nov. 5 was the first day that movements looking to place initiated amendments or measures on the 2024 ballot could begin collecting signatures. That day, Dakotans for Health, an organization that has supported several referendums in the past decade, kicked off their drive to change South Dakota's abortion.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Dakotans for Health, the organizers behind a potential 2024 ballot measure that would place the right to abortion in the South Dakota Constitution, kicked off its signature drive with an event in Sioux Falls on Nov. 5.
Rick Weiland, the founder of Dakotans for Health, said the overall response and kickoff turnout, which he estimated at around 150 during the two-hour event at the Icon Event Hall downtown, was unique in his history working on ballot initiatives.
“We've been involved in Medicaid, the minimum wage, payday lending and marijuana reform. I've never seen anything quite like this,” Weiland, who has been involved in signature drives and initiatives since 2014, told Forum News Service. “To have that many people that are speaking out and wanting to help collect signatures. It's usually the other way around, where we’re looking for people to help.”
Michele Brace, who attended the event, agreed with that description.
“It was really positive,” Brace said. “There was a lot of energy, it was just kind of an exciting vibe.”
Brace tied the energy of the event to the still-fresh erosion of abortion rights that followed the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health in June. After the release of that decision, which left the regulation of abortions to individual states, the procedure was banned in South Dakota except to preserve the life of the mother.
“It's all just new terrain, really,” Brace said. “I didn't think I'd be fighting for my rights at 44 years old.”
Weiland says he sent about 100 people home from the event with packets to start collecting signatures and added he has around 300 other petitioners across the state.
To make its way onto the 2024 ballot, a measure must have verified signatures equal to 10% of the turnout in the previous gubernatorial election. Though the exact total will be decided on Nov. 8, Weiland estimated that rule will require around 35,000 signatures.
“Our goal is to collect twice that,” he said.
The deadline for collecting these signatures is Nov. 5, 2023.
Weiland said the process was made easier by a recent decision in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down a 2020 law requiring paid ballot petition circulators to disclose their name, residential address, email address and phone number. This information would have been kept in a directory available to the public upon request.
If passed, the initiated amendment as written would leave the abortion decision in the first trimester “to the judgment of the pregnant woman.”
In the second trimester, the legislature would be able to “regulate the pregnant woman's abortion decision and its effectuation only in ways that are reasonably related to the physical health of the pregnant woman.”
Finally, in the third trimester, the state would be allowed to ban abortion “except when abortion is necessary, in the medical judgment of the woman's physician, to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman.”
It’s in the second trimester where the most ambiguity sits, as the state legislature may aggressively interpret what sort of regulations would be reasonably related to physical health.
“Who knows what the state's going to try to do,” Weiland said. “If we're successful at the ballot box, they'll be attempting to rewrite what the voters approved. And I'm sure all that will end up in the courts.”
Weiland pointed to recent polls from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy and South Dakota State University as indicating that a majority of voters have some degree of opposition to the current abortion law in the state. And, even if certain provisions in the second trimester are challenged, Weiland stressed that first-trimester access alone would be a victory in its own right.
“One thing that people don't realize is that 93% of all abortions usually occur in the first trimester,” Weiland said. ‘So if we're successful in getting this on the ballot and passed, and I think we will be, 93% of abortions would have no impediments at all.”