South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s abortion ban proposal stifled by Republican lawmakers

A Republican-controlled South Dakota House committee declined Wednesday to consider a proposal from Governor Kristi Noem aimed at banning nearly all abortions, stifling a top item on the governor’s agenda. The Republican governor loudly trumpeted her proposal this year, which would have mimicked the private enforcement of a Texas law and prohibited abortions once medical professionals can detect fetal cardiac activity.

But it quickly met resistance when groups opposed to abortion access raised issues over her bill draft and Republican lawmakers on the House State Affairs committee declined to give it a hearing — a move rarely seen in the Legislature that signaled defiance of the governor.

Dakota State Cybersecurity Noem
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem testifies to a Senate committee on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, in Pierre, S.D. 

Stephen Groves / AP

“They showed up late to the game last minute, even last hour type stuff and it didn’t pass,” said House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican. “Simple as that.”

Gosch said he shared Noem’s goal of banning all abortions but that the language she proposed would “jeopardize” the state’s involvement in a separate legal battle with Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s only clinic that regularly provides abortions.

Noem has touted support for the proposal from several national groups opposed to abortion access, but in-state groups flagged what they saw as problems with the bill.

“We were not in support of the governor’s original draft language,” said Dale Bartscher, the director of South Dakota Right to Life.

He added that he too was worried it would endanger the state’s standing in the case against Planned Parenthood, but that he hoped the governor would make revisions and bring it back.

Noem unveiled the proposal last month. It would have all but outlawed abortions in the state by prohibiting abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is usually around the sixth week and is before some women even know they’re pregnant. It would also leave enforcement up to private citizens through lawsuits instead of through prosecutors and criminal charges.

The House committee’s move gave the governor’s office just hours to find a legislator or committee willing to carry the bill, though it could also be brought before lawmakers later in the session through other maneuvers.

Noem told reporters she was caught off-guard by the committee’s decision not to hear the bill.

“They’re not listening to national leaders in the pro-life movement on the momentum we have in front of the Supreme Court and what this legislation means to South Dakota,” she said, adding that she didn’t believe her proposal “takes any credibility away from the case in front of the Supreme Court.”

In a subsequent video posted to Twitter, Noem said: “This is unprecedented in the worst way.”

“Instead of having an honest debate about over that and the merits of the bill, instead they chose not to even have a hearing, which is wrong,” Noem said, adding:  “D.C. does stuff like that, not South Dakota.”

Noem, who has positioned herself for a 2024 White House bid, later blasted lawmakers on Twitter, posting: “Every single life is precious and deserving of our protection — but apparently South Dakota legislators think otherwise.”

The majority-conservative Supreme Court last month refused to speed up the ongoing court case over Texas’ ban on most abortions, declining to order a federal appeals court to return the case to a federal judge who had temporarily blocked the law’s enforcement.

Kristin Hayward, the advocacy manager of Planned Parenthood South Dakota Action Fund, said in a statement that the governor’s setback doesn’t change the fact that she is trying to wipe out abortion access in the state.

“Don’t be fooled by the political games because the fact remains that Governor Noem is pushing a Texas-style abortion ban and fully supports decimating reproductive rights in our state,” Hayward said.

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