Rick Weiland, co-founder of Dakotans for Health, speaks to a crowd of volunteers at a kick-off event for a petition drive that aims to put abortion access on the 2024 ballot in South Dakota. The event took place Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at Icon Lounge in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
Organizers with Dakotans for Health used a Saturday morning rally at Icon Lounge in Sioux Falls to kick off a petition drive aimed at putting a Constitutional right to abortion on the 2024 ballot.
The event brought together well over 100 volunteers to train them on how to circulate petitions on behalf of the organization, which was co-founded by Sioux Falls business owner and former Democratic Congressional candidate Rick Weiland.
Dakotans for Health supported the push to put Medicaid expansion on the Tuesday ballot, and had previously backed referenda to raise the minimum wage, legalize marijuana and pass ethics rules for lawmakers.
The proposed amendment to the South Dakota Constitution would codify Roe vs. Wade, a U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide until a new high court decision handed down this spring 2022 decision.
South Dakota is among the states that had a “trigger law” on the books to ban abortion in the event of a decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. The 2005 law only allows abortion in cases where the life of the mother is at risk.
“South Dakota has become the most restrictive state in the nation when it comes to reproductive freedom and people are angry,” Weiland said. “We have people coming out of the woodwork to put Roe v. Wade on the 2024 ballot and let the people decide.”
Saturday was the first day petitioners were legally allowed to begin collecting signatures. Weiland urged the volunteers to look for signatures at a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith later in the day.
He also reminded the crowd that South Dakotans had rejected abortion bans through the referendum process in 2006 and 2008.
The circulators will need signatures amounting to 10% of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. The goal is for 60,000 signatures by July 1, 2023.
“We’ve got to get this thing on the ballot,” Dr. Amy Kelley told the crowd on Saturday. “No one’s going to save us. We have to save ourselves.”
Kelley is an OB/GYN in Sioux Falls. She told the volunteers that her clients and fellow doctors are unsure if it’s legal to discuss abortion since South Dakota’s trigger law took effect.
Doctors worry that they could face legal repercussions “if they advise patients to go out of state for the care they need.”
The rally came shortly after a major victory for South Dakota petitioners. On Wednesday, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling that blocked a South Dakota law that would have required petition circulators to register with the state and disclose their name and home address.
The decision from the three-judge panel ruled that the 2020 law, passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Kristi Noem, amounted to a free speech-chilling invasion of privacy.
Weiland lauded the decision, saying that the appeals court recognized the value of the citizen initiative process. South Dakota was the first state in the nation to embrace the practice, which could result in Medicaid expansion this election cycle, and, if Dakotans for Health is successful, the reinstatement of legal abortion in the state.
“I hope this ruling sends a message to the legislature not to meddle in the initiative process,” he said.
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