Governor Kristi Noem had pledged to call “immediately” a special legislative session to “ensure that every unborn child has a right to life in South Dakota” if the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But nearly three weeks after that ruling, the first-term Republican remains unusually quiet about exactly what she wants lawmakers to pass.
Noem, widely considered a possible 2024 presidential candidate, is not the only Republican governor with national ambitions who hesitantly responded to calls for swift action when judges ended the constitutional right to abortion that had been in place for nearly 50 years.
In Arkansas, which like South Dakota had an abortion ban prompted immediately by the court ruling, Governor Asa Hutchinson has said he does not plan to put abortion on the agenda of next month’s special session focused on cuts. of taxes. And in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential frontrunner for the White House who is also running for re-election, has declined to detail whether he will push to outright ban abortions despite a promise to “expand protections.” pro-life”.
Noem has given no indication of the date, the proposals or whether a special session will be held for anyone beyond a small group of House leaders. When asked if the governor still plans to call lawmakers back to Capitol Hill, her office this week referred to a june statement indicating that it was being planned for “later this year.”
It’s a change of course since the Supreme Court decision was first leaked in May and the governor tweeted that she would “immediately call a special session to save lives” if Roe was overturned. The enthusiasm put Noem, the first woman to hold the governor’s office in South Dakota, at the forefront of the anti-abortion movement.
However, when the abortion ban became a reality last month, Noem kept her plans secret, saying “there is more work to be done” and vowing to “help mothers in crisis.”
Some conservatives in the South Dakota Legislature wanted to take aggressive action, including trying to prevent organizations or businesses from paying women to travel out of state for abortions, changing the criminal punishment for having an abortion, and possibly clarifying the state law to ensure the ban. it did not affect other medical procedures.
Republican state Sen. Brock Greenfield said many South Dakota lawmakers who attended the state party convention on June 24, the same day as the Supreme Court ruling, hoped Noem would call them back to Pierre this week for a special session, but “obviously that has not happened. t come to fruition.”
“It’s maybe not a bad idea to let the dust settle and proceed very carefully, very strategically as we go forward,” said Greenfield, a former executive director of the state’s most influential anti-abortion group, South Dakota Right to Life.
The caution reflects the evolving landscape of abortion policy, as Republicans grapple with an issue that threatens to split the party while giving Democrats, a potential boost in election year.
nationwide surveys conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research before the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe proved unpopular, and most Americans wanted the court to leave precedent intact. Subsequent surveys since the ruling showed that a growing number of Americans, Democrats, particularly, cited abortion or women’s rights as priorities at the polls.
In political battleground states, some other prominent Republican governors, including potential White House contenders, have not been paid to enact abortion bans.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has said he believes the abortion issue is settled in his state, pointing to a 1991 law protecting abortion rights. Nevertheless, has resisted efforts by the Democratic-controlled Legislature to expand access to abortion.
Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, also considered a potential presidential candidate, wants lawmakers in the politically divided General Assembly to adopt legislation next year, saying he personally would favor banning most abortions after of 15 weeks of pregnancy.
During an online forum with abortion opponents, he said he would “gainly” sign any bill “to protect life,” but acknowledged that Virginia’s political reality might require a compromise.
“My goal is that we … actually get a bill to sign,” he said. “It will not be the bill that we all want.”
In the wake of South Dakota’s abortion ban, Noem took a softer approach on the subject by launching a website for pregnant women. She even seemed enthusiastic about pushing for state-backed paid family leave.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who is in a closely watched gubernatorial race with Democrat Beto O’Rourke, took a similar approach to the high court ruling that could make him the most populous state to ban abortions. He issued a statement saying Texas “prioritized support for women’s and pregnant women’s health care” and pointed to efforts to expand women’s health programs as well as fund organizations that discourage women from having abortions. .
States with the strictest abortion laws in the country, such as Texas and South Dakota, also have some of the worst rates of first-trimester prenatal care, as well as uninsured children in poverty, according to a AP analysis of federal data.
South Dakota Right to Life executive director Dale Bartscher suggested Noem’s action at a special session could be part of a shift in strategy: “A whole new pro-life movement has just started: we’re ready to serve women, the unborn, and families. .”
He said he had been in communication with the governor’s office about his plans, but declined to detail them.
But Noem has faced criticism in recent weeks for her stance that the only exception to the state’s abortion ban should be saving a mother’s life, even if she has been raped, became pregnant through incest or is a girl.
It’s also unclear where she stands on some conservative lawmakers’ desire to target organizations and businesses that are helping women leave the state for abortion services, a proposal that could undermine Noem’s efforts to attract businesses to the state. condition.
Brockfield warned that a special legislative session could lead to “a lot of discussion about whether we’re going too far or whether we haven’t gone far enough.”
At the same time, abortion rights protesters showed up at Noem’s campaign office and named her in chants denouncing the state’s ban. They see growing momentum for an effort to restore some abortion rights in the state through a 2024 ballot measure, noting that South Dakota voters in 2006 and 2008 rejected efforts by Republican state lawmakers to ban the procedure.
“I’ve lived in this state my whole life and I’ve never seen people come out to protest this issue like they have in the last few weeks,” said Kim Floren, who helps run an abortion access fund called Justice Empowerment Network.
The fund has also been strategizing for a special session, including hiring legal representation and planning protests in Pierre, Floren said.
Their wishes may be overruled in the South Dakota House of Representatives, where Republicans hold 90% of the seats, but abortion-rights advocates say there is a new urgency to alert voters to the potential impact of abortion. state ban on abortion.
“We’re going to watch people die,” said Callan Baxter, president of the South Dakota chapter of the National Organization for Women. “We are going to see some real-life consequences and the exposure will have a big legislative impact in the future.”
Associated Press writers Sarah Rankin, Brian Witte and Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared on Los Angeles Times.