An anti-abortion group in South Dakota sues to take an abortion rights initiative off the ballot

An anti-abortion group in South Dakota has filed a lawsuit to block an abortion rights measure from the November ballot.

In its complaint filed Thursday, the Life Defense Fund alleged several misdeeds by the measure’s supporters, as well as invalid signatures and fraud. The group is trying to disqualify or invalidate the initiative.

In May, Secretary of State Monae Johnson said has validated the measure by Dakotans for Health for the November 5 general election. The proponents of the measure had submitted approximately 54,000 signatures to qualify the ballot initiative. They needed about 35,000 signatures. Johnson’s office deemed about 85% of the signatures valid based on a random sample.

The Life Defense Fund alleged that Dakotans for Health failed to file a required affidavit for the whereabouts of petition circulators, and that petitioners did not always provide required circulators and left petition sheets unattended. The Life Defense Fund also objected that many more signatures were invalid, and alleged signers of the signatures misled people about what they were signing.

“The public should scrutinize Dakotan for Health’s comments and carefully consider their credibility. Ultimately, the Court will determine whether such unlawful conduct could result in the measure being placed on the ballot,” Life Defense Fund attorney Sara Frankenstein said in an email Monday.

Dakotans for Health called the Life Defense Fund lawsuit “a last-ditch effort to undermine the democratic process.”

“They did everything they could, and now the kitchen sink, to keep voters from weighing in in November. We are confident that the people of South Dakota will be able to make this decision, and not the politicians, next November. ” co-founder Rick Weiland said in a statement on Friday.

The measure would prevent the state from regulating “a pregnant woman’s abortion decision and its implementation” in the first trimester, but would allow second-trimester regulation only in ways reasonably related to the pregnant woman’s physical health woman.

The constitutional amendment would allow the state to regulate or ban abortion in the third trimester, “except when, in the medical judgment of the woman’s physician, abortion is necessary to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman.”

South Dakota prohibits abortion as a crime, except to save the mother’s life, under a trigger law that took effect in 2022 at the U.S. Supreme Court. Dobbs decision that was overturned the constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.

The measure shrugged off opposition Republican-controlled South Dakota Legislature earlier this year. The legislature approved one solution officially opposed the measure, and a law was passed allowing petition signers to do so withdraw their signatures from initiative petitions. The latter is not expected to have any influence on the measure before the voters.

The Life Defense Fund is also seeking to ban Dakotans for Health and its employees from sponsoring or distributing petitions or doing ballot initiative committee work for four years.

South Dakota is one of four states – along with Colorado, Florida and Maryland – where measures to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution will go before voters in November. There are petitions to add similar questions in seven other states.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, ending the right to abortion nationwide, there have been seven abortion-related ballot measures statewide, and abortion rights advocates have prevailed on all counts.


Dura reported from Bismarck, North Dakota. Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this story from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.