Legislation likely to prompt a national legal battle targeting Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, was approved Wednesday by the South Dakota Senate, moving the bill a step closer to final passage.
The measure, which would ban nearly all abortions in the state, now returns to the House, which passed a different version earlier. The House must decide whether to accept changes made by the Senate, which passed its version 23-12.
"It is the time for the South Dakota Legislature to deal with this issue and protect the lives and rights of unborn children," said Democratic Sen. Julie Bartling, the bill's main sponsor.
The bill, carrying a penalty of as much as five years in prison, would make it a felony for doctors or anyone else to perform abortions.
Bartling and other supporters said the recent appointment of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito could make the Supreme Court more likely to consider overturning Roe vs. Wade.
Opponents have contended that the measure was too extreme because it would allow abortions only to save the lives of pregnant women.
They said abortion should at least be allowed in cases involving rape, incest and a threat to a woman's health.
Officials with Planned Parenthood, which operates the only clinic that provides abortions in South Dakota, said they planned to challenge the measure in court if it wins final approval from the Legislature and is signed by Gov. Mike Rounds.
Rounds, a longtime abortion opponent, has said he would "look favorably" on the abortion ban if it would save lives.
Other state legislatures are considering similar measures, but South Dakota is the only state so far to pass such a ban, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights organization in New York and Washington, D.C.