After pushback, South Dakota Attorney General’s office modifies abortion amendment language

Anti-abortion groups provided strong pushback on language that said a proposed amendment to the state constitution, enshrining a right to abortion in it, only “provided a legal framework for abortion.”
Anti-abortion groups provided strong pushback on an explanation for an amendment to the state constitution.
Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 10:45 PM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - South Dakota voters will more than likely go to the polls in November 2024 to determine whether or not a right to an abortion should be in the state’s constitution.

And while the title and the explanation for that amendment have officially been finalized, it did not come without significant input and scrutiny.

For every ballot initiative, state law requires the Attorney General to provide a title and an explanation of the initiative, no longer than 200 words. According to state law, the Attorney General’s explanation is meant to be an “objective, clear, and simple summary” intended to “educate the voters of the purpose and effect of the proposed” measure, as well as identify the “legal consequences” of each measure.

A draft title and and explanation for the abortion amendment was submitted for review and public comment by Attorney General Mark Vargo on August 4th.

Titled “A Constitutional Amendment Concerning the Regulation of Abortion,” the first paragraph of the original explanation stated that the proposed amendment would “establish a framework for the regulation of abortion.”

Groups opposed to abortion, such as the Family Heritage Alliance and Susan B. Anthony List, along with many Republican lawmakers, wrote the Attorney General’s office during the public comment period with concerns that the title and explanation were too broad and not accurate.

“Our biggest issue was the fact that it didn’t state this would create a constitutional right to an abortion. Which is the main thing that the amendment would be doing,” said State Rep. Bethany Soye (R-Sioux Falls). Soye authored a letter co-signed by 19 other state lawmakers asking Vargo to change the language. “We need to make it very clear what this amendment is doing.”

The new explanation of the amendment, released late last week, now says that the amendment would “Establish a Right to Abortion in the State Constitution” and “provides a legal framework for the regulation of abortion.”

“State law requires me to provide a ‘clear, and simple summary’ so that voters understand the goal and potential effect of a proposed amendment” Vargo said in a statement to Dakota News Now/KOTA Territory. “After a review of all of the comments I received, I believe that the final language I submitted better meets those objectives.”

“South Dakotans who are just seeing this for the first time on the ballot need to understand that this creates a right to abortion,” said Susan B. Anthony List State Policy Director Katie Glenn. “There is no right to an abortion in South Dakota, there is no right to an abortion in the United States Constitution. this would be a huge change from state policy.”

“Dakotans for Health” founder Rick Weiland, who is leading the charge to get the amendment on the ballot, says that the change meant little to them and they are satisfied moving forward.

“If you look at some of the public comments a lot of them were very editorial and I would argue quite political, and he (Vargo) didn’t accept hardly any of it,” Weiland said. “So was there any material change to what our amendment proposes? I don’t really think there was.”

Dakotans for Health will still have to collect the necessary amount of signatures in order for the initiative to get on the ballot in 2024.

Rick Weiland, the co-founder of Dakotans for Health, talks about the final language of a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion in S.D.