Two pro-life groups are clashing with each other over a South Dakota bill to criminalize abortion that was defeated by a single vote in the state Senate.

The public-interest Thomas More Law Center accuses National Right to Life of “complicity” with pro-abortion groups over demise of the bill, designed to become the most restrictive abortion law in 30 years and help overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.

The Michigan-based law firm helped draft the bill, which would have banned virtually all abortions in that state and made abortion a felony punishable for up to 15 years. The bill passed the state House by an overwhelming majority, 54 to 14, before its narrow defeat in the Senate, 18-17.

In a news release, the More Center quoted a bewildered 25-year member of Right to Life and director of an abortion counseling service, Leslee Unruh.

“We were shocked, saddened and dismayed that National Right to Life lobbied against this bill,” she said. “In effect, they aborted the right to life bill.”

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the More Center concluded, “One thing we know for sure, Planned Parenthood and NARAL could not be happier with National Right To Life.”

In response, National Right to Life called the charge of joining forces with pro-abortion groups “absurd, untrue, and unproductive.”

“In fact,” the group said, “National Right to Life called for no grass-roots action against the bill, sent no one into South Dakota, sent no letters to the South Dakota legislature, issued no press releases and spoke only to one South Dakota state senator who is also South Dakota’s representative to the National Right to Life Committee board of directors.”

The More Center said state Sen. Jay Duenwald led “behind-the-scenes opposition” when the bill reached the State Affairs Committee.

“Together with pro-abortion senators, Duenwald’s lobbying efforts succeeded in removing the ban and replacing it with an informed consent measure, something already covered by South Dakota law,” the law center’s release said.

Thompson accused National Right to Life of betrayal.

“It is one thing for National Right to Life to disagree with the timing of a bill banning abortions, it is another thing for them to join forces with pro-abortionists to kill the ban – it is betrayal of the unborn and pro-life movement,” he said. “When is it the wrong time to do what is right? This organization has lost the moral authority to lead the pro- life cause.”

But National Right to Life argued the bill was made virtually ineffective through a “health exception,” which allowed abortion “if there is a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”

“The bill left the application of that health exception to the subjective judgment of the abortionist, thus creating a gigantic loophole,” the group explained. “Although the bill created the impression of prohibiting all abortions, the ‘health’ exception, as drafted, meant it could have prohibited none.”

The More Center insisted, despite the exception, the bill still required doctors to use reasonable medical efforts to preserve the life of the unborn child as well as the mother.

National Right to Life also argued most accounts of the bill failed to recognize the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe v. Wade 5-4 in its 1992 Casey vs. Planned Parenthood decision.

Since then, the group said, one anti-Roe justice, Byron White, has been replaced by one strongly pro-Roe justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leaving the court 6-3 in favor of Roe.

“Thus, it is legitimate to question the wisdom of providing the current Supreme Court the opportunity to reaffirm the tragic Roe v. Wade decision at this time, making it even more difficult for a future court, containing new justices to reverse Roe.”

The group also noted if the bill were successfully challenged in court, the bill’s defenders would be forced to pay substantial attorneys fees to abortion advocates.

Gov. Mike Rounds, known for his pro-life voting record as a member of the South Dakota legislature, issued a “style and form” veto after the bill initially passed the Senate. Rounds sent the bill back with wording changes to make sure existing abortion restrictions were not threatened if the bill were struck down in court.

But one senator, who saw this as overstepping authority, changed his vote, which defeated the bill.

National Right to Life said it is “committed to restoring legal protection to unborn children as soon as possible. Our strategies and allocation of very limited resources have always been directed toward making an actual difference, not just a statement.”

The group said in South Dakota it has sought state legislation such as abortion funding bans, parental involvement laws and women’s right-to-know, or informed consent laws.

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South Dakota legislation challenges Roe vs. Wade

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