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Understanding lawsuits filed by groups related to abortion rights question

Copies of two complaints filed by Dakotans For Health and Life Defense Fund against one another in federal and state courts respectively.
Lee Strubinger
/
SDPB
Copies of two complaints filed by Dakotans For Health and Life Defense Fund against one another in federal and state courts, respectively.

There are currently two lawsuits related to the abortion ballot question on the November ballot.

The group backing an abortion rights ballot question is asking a federal judge to uphold the court’s injunction against a residency law for petition circulators.

“Life Defense Fund plaintiffs seek an order requiring the state to enforce its 30-day petition circulator residency requirement and thereby to flout this court’s permanent injunction," Dakotans For Health argues.

They argue a legal challenge by an anti-abortion group is moot, given the courts have tossed out a law requiring paid circulators register with the state a wear a badge when gathering signatures.

But, in a separate suit in Minnehaha County, Life Defense Fund is asking the courts to toss out abortion rights petition sheets from circulators they say is out of compliance with a different law not currently on the books.

The group argues in its lawsuit that a domino trail of court rulings revives a 2018 law requiring petition circulators fill out an affidavit listing their residency information.

That includes driver’s license number, voter registration, library card, utility bills and even whether they pay in-state tuition. Consequences for failing to file the information with the affidavits disqualifies the petitions.

That law was repealed by state lawmakers a year later, when State Rep. Jon Hansen amended the law to a blanket 30-day residency requirement. That law was enjoined in the courts. A subsequent effort by the Republican controlled legislature was also enjoined.

Hansen is also co-chair of the Life Defense Fund. Now the group is leaning on the law he repealed—saying because the 2019 law is struck by the courts, the original 2018 law is in effect.

“The petition circulator residency affidavit requirement, originally found in HB 1196 from 2018, is currently good law and must be enforced," Life Defense Fund argues. "Petition sheets form petition circulators out of compliance with HB 1196 are disqualified and must not be considered.”

The Legislative Research Council lists the law as being repealed since 2020. Hansen referred SDPB to lawyer Sara Frankenstein, who has not returned requests for comment.

Life Defense Fund is trying to invalidate 148 more signatures from the Secretary of State’s random petition sample of what is now called Constitutional Amendment G. If this portion of their case is successful it could invalidate 50 signatures.

Amendment G establishes the constitutional right to an abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, while allowing the state to ban the procedure in the third—except in cases to preserve the life or health of the mother.

It’s unclear whether Life Defense Fund’s argument would apply to other ballot questions that have already been approved for the November ballot, as well as one referred law petition still circulating, which is due on Tuesday.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.